House Passes First Obamacare Change

Font Size:

The House passed legislation Thursday that would change Obamacare’s definition of a full-time work week to 40 hours instead of 30 hours, lowering the number of businesses affected by the law’s employer mandate.

The bill is the new GOP Congress’ first change to the health-care law and Republicans are already facing serious resistance. The White House has formally threatened to veto the bill if it makes it to the president’s desk.

Still, even with President Obama’s veto threat, 12 House Democrats voted for the bill — along with each and every House Republican. That’s six fewer Democrats than voted for a bill on the same question in 2014.

This year, the bill actually has the potential to pass the Senate as well. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has championed the legislation repeatedly since the GOP swept the November midterm elections. But McConnell will need 60 votes, including at least six Democrats, to bring the bill up for a vote.

It may be the first of many changes to Obamacare congressional Republicans have planned this year, but it’s already embroiled the GOP in a big fight over the potential effects. While White House opposition was expected, some on the right have criticized the change as well, calling instead for a full repeal of the employer mandate (and of Obamacare as a whole, while they’re at it).

Since there are more Americans who work just over 40 hours per week than just over 30 hours, millions more would be at risk for having their hours cut to avoid the employer mandate and its high taxes for noncompliance if the change goes through, critics have argued — better to just be rid of the employer mandate as a whole. But new research from free-market think tank American Action Forum, however, suggests that because most full-time employees already had employer-provided health coverage before Obamacare, the GOP bill actually wouldn’t affect more workers.

Almost 78 million people work between 40 and 45 hours per week and could be at risk to have their hours cut so their employer could avoid the mandate, but the vast majority of those workers already have health coverage, according to an AAF policy brief published Thursday. AAF concludes that just 9.3 million workers would be at risk to have their hours cut below 40 hours per week to avoid the mandate. With Obamacare’s definition at 30 hours per week, slightly more workers, 9.8 million, are very likely to lose hours.

That doesn’t mean every worker in both groups will automatically lose hours as a result of the employer mandate, but that they’re at high risk for it. While not all businesses are cutting hours, some employers have reported that they’re switching more workers to part-time and hiring more part-time employees as a direct result of the Affordable Care Act.

A likely result of switching the work-week is taking in fewer taxes in the form of fines on businesses that choose not to comply with the Obamacare edict. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the change would increase budget deficits by $18.1 billion by 2020 and $53.2 billion by 2025. The agency expects 1 million people to lose employer-provided health coverage, with somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million of those workers moving to Medicaid or an Obamacare exchange.

“When middle-class Americans can’t work a full, 40-hour work week because of the president’s health care law, they can’t provide for their families, pay their bills, or get ahead in a tight economy,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement Thursday. “Todd Young’s bill will help the thousands of Americans who either have, or are at risk of having, their wages and hours cut by repealing the 30-hour rule in ObamaCare — a rule that hurts low-income workers and women the most.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter