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Published: October, 2013; Vol 10, Num 5

 

Message of the Co-Chairmen (Fall 2013):

Health Care, Silica in the Headlines…

On October 1, the nation enters fiscal year 2014, but it's still gridlock as usual in Washington. Almost no legislation has passed in the 113th Congress. On the federal budget, Congress has agreed only to disagree. It has not passed a real budget since 2009. The Sequester's spending squeeze continues. A debt ceiling fight looms. And despite continuing opposition from numerous sides, a major part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is preparing for a January 1, 2014, start.

Effective October 1, an open enrollment period begins for PPACA's new health care exchanges. Coverage can begin as early as January 1, 2014. While PPACA's goal is to ensure that all eligible residents of the U.S. have access to affordable health care insurance, the Act does not recognize the effective services that Taft-Hartley plans, such as LIUNA's health and welfare funds, provide for union members and their families. In a July 18, 2013, letter to President Obama, LIUNA General President Terry O'Sullivan clearly expressed concerns regarding the detrimental impact that provisions of the law will have on our funds as well as the continuing disparities between benefits afforded to union members compared to non-union workers.

Because small employers have been given a free pass, the law does nothing to require the non-union construction industry to provide health insurance or pay a commensurate penalty. And the one-year delay in implementation of the employer mandate means that even large non-union employers are escaping obligations under the law. Rather than helping to level the playing field between the non-union and union sectors, PPACA provides a way for non-union workers to get insurance without any contribution from their employers. Meanwhile, the union sector, doing the right thing as it has always done, continues its long tradition of providing quality coverage to union members through collective bargaining.

This inequity needs to be corrected. With the opening of the exchanges this month, all eyes are watching to see how the system will really work and what impact it will have. Against this uncertainty, LIUNA's health & welfare funds provide a proven record of effective coverage and solid performance that has served Laborers and union contractors well for decades. In this issue of LIFELINES, we affirm the powerful reasons for maintaining and continuing union-backed health insurance.

We also take note of OSHA's proposal for a new silica standard for construction. The industry and LIUNA members have waited a long time for this, including a delay of more than two years at the White House Office of Management and Budget. Updating the permissible exposure limit and adopting task-based criteria for deploying controls, the new proposal appears to provide a workable, cost-effective approach that will provide real protection to construction workers. The Fund will offer detailed testimony on the proposal later this fall.

The fall months also bring attention to a variety of health issues that have broad significance for Laborers and their families. After profiling prostate cancer last month, we turn attention, now, to breast cancer, hearing loss and dental health. In all three areas, you can take action to adjust your lifestyle, minimize your risks and improve your health.

Finally, beginning this month, the Fund is reporting through a new portal. If you're reading this online, you've undoubtedly noticed that we've unveiled our new website. If not, please visit online (www.lhsfna.org). The most obvious change is our new look, which incorporates our new logo and official colors. We've also improved the site's aesthetics by adding pictures and graphics to most of the pages. Deeper down, we've made an array of improvements in the site's navigation. We hope these changes will help you get more from the Fund's online resources.

Upgrading to a new site is bound to produce some glitches. If you notice something that doesn't work right or could be improved, please send us an email at editor@lhsfna.org. We look forward to your feedback.

Now, if only the nation's gridlock could be so readily addressed. That's a tough one.