Alt-Labor Groups Find Partnership with the Affordable Care Act

Officials at Working America, the AFL-CIO’s non-union affiliate, believe they may have found a path toward long-term financial viability — and it runs through the Affordable Care Act.

The big question for so-called alt-labor groups like Working America — which have been sprouting up as the ranks of traditional unions dwindle — is how they can become self-sustaining outside the framework of collective bargaining. Unlike a traditional union, this labor group for people who aren’t union members doesn’t have a large base of dues-paying members to fund its programs and politics.

What it does have now is a deal with GoHealth, a private insurance exchange, to guide its members and would-be members into health plans available under the law better known as Obamacare. Working America, in turn, will receive a piece of the commission paid out by insurance carriers for each plan issued.

The Affordable Care Act strategy is Working America’s most promising funding lead yet, said Karen Nussbaum, the group’s executive director.

“The non-collective bargaining organizations are all dependent on unions or foundations. None of them are within a whisper of becoming self-sufficient,” said Nussbaum. “So this becomes a really rare opportunity to achieve that.”

Nobody has to use a private broker to obtain health coverage under Obamacare. People can simply go to HealthCare.gov or a state online exchange and shop for themselves. But Working America is betting that its members will appreciate the hand-holding of agents, who come at no extra cost, as they assess a complicated product in a confusing new marketplace.

That sort of assistance could be good for Obamacare, too. Outside brokers and agents were critical in helping early enrollment under the Affordable Care Act surpass expectations, with a lot of customers turning to one-on-one guidance to navigate the exchanges. For Working America, this is one way to get more people enrolled in Obamacare and more people enlisted in the labor movement.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary