The Wrong Way To Chip Away At Obamacare

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 7 2015 @ 11:55am

Suzy Khimm examines the GOP’s plans:

One of the first items on their agenda in January is President Obama’s signature health care legislation. But Republican’s won’t be pushing for a full repeal of Obamacare. They’re not even pushing for partial repeal. Instead, they’re angling for a seemingly incremental change: to be counted as full-time, workers should need to rack up 40 hours a week, not 30 hours. …

But the GOP’s proposed change is hardly a minor tweak to Obamacare—and not all conservatives agree it’s the best way forward. It would effectively gut the employer mandate, reducing employer-sponsored coverage by 1 million people and costing $74 billion in lost penalties, according to the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation. But it would also make it even more likely that the Affordable Care Act will have negative consequences for ordinary Americans, according to Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Paul Van de Water likewise warns that “raising the threshold from 30 hours a week to 40 hours would make a shift toward part-time employment much more likely — not less so”:

That’s because only a small share of workers today — 7 percent — work 30 to 34 hours a week and thus are most at risk of having their hours cut below health reform’s threshold.  In comparison, 44 percent of employees work 40 hours a week, and another several percent work 41 to 44 hours a week.  Thus, raising the threshold to 40 hours would place many more workers at risk of having their hours reduced.

In short, it’s the House Republican bill, not health reform, that threatens the traditional 40-hour work week the bill’s sponsors say they want to protect.

Jason Millman argues along the same lines:

[S]etting the ACA workweek at 40 hours puts far more employees at risk of having their hours reduced, according to a Commonwealth Fund analysis. Compared to the 30-hour definition, “there are more than twice as many workers at high risk of hours reductions because they are within five hours of the full-time definition at firms that do not offer health insurance coverage,” the analysis found. Commonwealth also concludes raising the full-time threshold will increase reliance on public coverage through the ACA.

The National Review’s Yuval Levin also took note of the Commonwealth findings, writing in November that adjusting the 40-hour workweek “seems likely to be worse than doing nothing.” Instead, the conservative pundit wrote, the GOP should focus on repealing the employer mandate entirely.