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Here's one more early priority for Republican leaders in Congress. They plan another vote on the Affordable Care Act. Today the House will debate and likely pass a bill that would change Obamacare. It would alter the law's definition of full-time work. Right now, 30 hours per week counts as full-time. That would become 40 hours per week, and that would reduce the number of workers to whom employers must offer health insurance. NPR's John Ydstie reports.
JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: The bill before the House today was already passed there during the last Congress. Republicans touted it as a way to prevent employers from capping workers' hours.
Here's Susan Brooks, an Indiana representative, arguing for the change in Obamacare last year.
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REPRESENTATIVE SUSAN BROOKS: By redefining a full-time employee as someone who works 30 or more hours a week, the Affordable Care Act has caused workers' hours to be reduced in vital industries across the nation.
YDSTIE: The argument is that by requiring companies to offer health insurance coverage to employees working 30 hours or more, Obamacare creates an incentive for managers to reduce the workers' hours below 30. That way, employers could avoid providing coverage or paying a fine. The change to 40 hours a week has been supported by businesses, most prominently in the restaurant sector, says Joe Antos, a health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute.
JOE ANTOS: Moving from to 30 hours to 40 hours is something that businesses have supported. They'd like to see less intrusion and the way they handle their workforces.
YDSTIE: Antos says moving the threshold to 40 hours a week is a minor change in the ACA that will affect only a small number of people. But Sherry Glied, dean of the School of Public Policy at New York University, says the current 30-hour-a-week threshold was a good idea.
SHERRY GLIED: The good thing about the 30 hour threshold is that hardly anybody works about 30 hours. Only about 2.5 percent of all workers in large firms work schedules that are between 30 and 34 hours.
YDSTIE: By contrast, Glied says, if the threshold requiring employer-sponsored coverage were raised to 40 hours a week, many more workers would be at risk of losing hours.
GLIED: 40 hours a week is kind of the standard amount of hours that people work. That's where the bulk of American employees are already working. But if you stick the threshold at 40 hours, it's much easier for employers by just reducing hours by one to move a lot of people below the threshold.
YDSTIE: Joe Antos counters that most 40-hour a week workers already are offered health insurance by their employers.
ANTOS: And are going to continue to offer employee health benefits. In other words, the rule doesn't really affect them.
YDSTIE: But Glied's research finds that even if you count only workers who don't currently get health insurance through their employers, there would still be twice as many at risk of losing hours if the threshold were moved to 40 hours a week. Glied says the facts suggest that describing this legislation as an effort to protect workers is a smokescreen.
GLIED: Employers don't like the employer mandate because some of them are going to wind up spending more money. That doesn't sell very well, politically. So instead, people have latched onto this idea that it's going to cause big changes in hours. And that's probably just not going to happen.
YDSTIE: Joe Antos says he agrees with many Republicans that it would be much better to do away completely with the ACA requirement that businesses provide health care coverage for their workers. But he says politics require the Republican leadership to satisfy their base quickly by pushing this change in the threshold for coverage. It is likely to pass the House and go to the Senate, but the White House said on Tuesday that if the bill reaches President Obama's desk, he will veto it.
John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington.
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