What Difference do 10 Hours Make? What the Research Tells us About Shifting the Affordable Care Act Standard for Full Time Work from 30 to 40 Hours

By Mason Weber

The first salvo in the newly elected Congressional majority’s fight against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been fired loud and clear, and it’s aimed at the law’s definition of full-time employment, currently defined as working at least 30 hours a week. As it now stands, full-time employees under the ACA are defined as those working over 30 hours per week. The proposal, the “Save American Workers Act of 2015,” would raise this threshold to 40 hours. This cutoff has important ramifications, especially for small to medium-sized businesses, as the employer mandate (scheduled to go into effect this month) requires all businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to provide those employees with health insurance. Supporters of the bill claim that the 30-hour threshold creates an incentive for companies to reduce employee hours in order to avoid the employer mandate, which not only lowers employees’ wages but also pushes them onto the government-subsidized health insurance marketplaces. But what do the facts say?

One of the sponsors of the bill, Congressman Todd Young, says, “It’s simply unfair to try and finance healthcare for some hardworking American people on the backs of other hardworking Americans through a reduction in hours and wages. That’s essentially what the Affordable Care Act has done.” But does the evidence support Young’s statement? In fact, a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report from February of 2014 found that there was “no compelling evidence that part-time employment has increased as a result of the ACA.” Other reports have shown that part-time work has actually seen a steady drop from its post-recession peak in 2010. Though the employer penalty has yet to come into effect, it seems unlikely that the 30-hour standard currently in place has created the disincentives for work that some suggest.

What the evidence does suggest is that a change of the definition of full time work to 40 hours might create the very problem that this bill purports to solve. This is because only 7 percent of American workers work between 30-34 hours per week while 44 percent work 40-44 hours. Thus, a significantly larger pool of workers would be vulnerable to a reduction in hours for employers to avoid the employer penalty with a 40-hour definition. A Commonwealth Fund report estimates that twice as many employees would be at a high risk for reduced hours, even when excluding companies already providing health insurance. The CBO estimates that a 40-hour definition could affect as many as 1 million workers who would see their employer sponsored healthcare taken away by hourly reductions, while 500,000 more individuals would be pushed to Medicaid or the insurance exchanges. This would leave almost 500,000 more Americans without insurance. The CBO report also estimates the 40-hour change would add $66 billion to the deficit by 2025.

Proponents of the bill, however, cite a study from a free-market research center at George Mason University that suggests up to 4 million Americans could see their hours reduced once the employer mandate  (with a definition of full-time at 30 hours) is put in place this month. This argument ignores the fact that an overwhelmingly larger number of American employees are hovering around the 40-hour threshold than the 30-hour mark. Ultimately, the proposal currently before Congress leaves far more Americans in danger of losing both wages and health insurance coverage than the current 30-hour per week standard. The idea that the “Save American Workers Act” will save any American workers is difficult to reconcile with the facts.

Editor’s Note: Mason Weber is a Georgetown University MD/MBA candidate and works as a health policy associate at Georgetown’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

1 Comment

  • Ludy Zulueta-Bermudez says:

    This factual analysis makes me to agree that the congress should stay with the 30 hours as the full time criteria for businesses to provide health insurance to those employees.

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