Despite a veto threat from President Obama, the U.S. House Thursday passed legislation that changes the definition of full-time employee under the Affordable Care Act.
It’s unclear, though, how many Delaware Valley workers would be affected if the measure were to become law.
The ACA’s employer mandate requires businesses with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance to staff who work 30 hours or more per week. Companies that don’t comply face financial penalties.
Congressional Republicans and some Democrats want to raise that threshold to 40 hours per week. They argue it’s the traditional understanding of full-time employment, and that businesses shouldn’t be enticed to cut workers down to 29 hours per week to avoid providing health benefits.
That’s already happened to some adjunct professors, including some at Philadelphia University.
However, Anna Neighbor with the United Academics of Philadelphia, a union for adjuncts, said that simply changing the definition won’t translate into more access to health coverage.
“Whether we are 30 hours a week as a definition of full time, or 40 hours a week as a definition of full time, universities will continually scale back our hours and cap us to keep us ineligible,” she said.
Casinos, local governments and public school districts in the region have also announced cuts in hours for certain employees due to the health law, but the true impact of the employer mandate remains far from clear.
“There’s a lot of debate about how much the law has influenced part-time hiring and reducing hours, and the data are a little mixed on this,” said Scott Harrington, a professor of health care management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
“But suffice it to say, there is significant concern that some workers are finding it difficult to get positions that provide more than 30 hours a week because of the law.”
Harrington said the politics are much clearer, with supporters of the ACA seeing any change in the law as the first steps toward dismantling it.
“There’s so many proposals for modifying the law in various and sundry ways that I think there’s an understandable fear that if you start to make any changes, if you permit any change in the actual legislation, it will be the beginning of a trend,” he said.
The White House points to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of a $53 billion price tag for the change as a reason to keep the definition of full-time intact. The costs would be a result of fewer collected penalties from businesses and more workers turning to the marketplace for coverage.
Even with the potential expense, Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis for the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, said increasing the hours for full-time workers is the right move. The group supports a complete repeal of the ACA.
“Anytime that you start to mess with what employers can and can’t do, and what types of benefits employees can and can’t have, there’s always going to be unintended consequences,” Stelle said.