• Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

    House passes bill defining full-time work as 40 hours, White House promises veto

    The GOP-led house responded to one of the most common critiques of Obamacare last week by passing a bill redefining full-time work from the 30 hours per week specified in the current health care law to 40 hours per week. The White House has promised a veto.

    At stake is a controversial part of the health care law that requires employers to provide health care to "full time" employees, defined as those working 30 hours a week or more. Critics have pointed to employers in various sectors, including part-time university faculty and restaurant workers, whose hours were shaved in response to the law, dropping them to 29 hours or fewer.

    Rep. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), the lead sponsor of the proposal, said the reductions in work hours unfairly target lower-wage workers whom the law was designed to help, the Washington Post reported.

    “These are cafeteria workers, these are substitute teachers, these are adjunct professors,” he said this week. “These are folks who help us in terms of serving at restaurants. On balance, these are folks who can least afford to see a cut in their take-home pay. And so we want to restore the 40-hour workweek.”

    Whether this is a good move or a bad move for workers depends on which lens you use, reports Kent Hoover for bizjournals.com.

    Hoover notes that "changing the definition to 40 hours would protect 11.8 million workers who work more than 30 hours a week from having their hours cut, according to a study by the GOP-friendly American Action Forum." But on the other hand, "the Congressional Budget Office, however, concluded the bill would reduce the number of Americans who receive employer-based health insurance by 1 million and shift coverage costs to to taxpayers. The CBO estimates the bill would increase federal budget deficits by $73.7 million over the next 10 years."

    Critics of the law have pointed to a sustained rise in involuntary part-time work that has persisted since the end of the Great Recession, citing this as evidence that employers are responding preemptively to the new regulation.

    "An alternative interpretation of the persistent high level of involuntary part-time work due to an inability to find full-time work," stated a report by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank last summer, "is that it reflects employer anticipation of the 30-hour cutoff for mandatory employee health benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010. Media stories have suggested that some employers are only hiring part-time workers to minimize the cost of expanded health coverage. This phenomenon will probably continue, although perhaps at a slower pace due to the recently announced delay in implementation of the employer mandate to 2015."

    Not surprisingly, the White House was dismissive of this latest attack on the president's signature health care law, threatening a veto and stating, "H.R. 4015 would delay the individual shared responsibility provision, which is essential to ensuring that the 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions can get coverage without being charged more or losing coverage when they get sick. This legislation would result in higher numbers of uninsured Americans, higher premiums for those who remain insured, and fewer premium tax credits for middle-income families, and would increase cost-shifting of uncompensated care to health care providers, workers and businesses."

    Email: eschulzke@desnews.com