Chronicle Editorial

ObamaCare workweek shortchanges wage earners


     Last week,  Democratic lawmakers celebrated a "milestone" when it was announced 7.1 million Americans had signed up for health coverage under the embattled Affordable Care Act (ACA). The number was higher than originally anticipated, but it was by no means greeted with bipartisan enthusiasm in Washington.

     House Republicans responded to the news by launching another counterattack against the ACA on Thursday when they voted to change one of the more head-scratching requirements of the law. In a 236-186 vote, members approved rewriting the ACA to define a full-time employee as someone who works 40 hours each week and not 30 hours, which is the current definition under the law's statutes. The vote came in response to concerns that employers would slash their workers' hours to fewer than 30 each week so they wouldn't fall under the ACA's requirements, in turn hurting millions of wage earners nationwide.

     The proposed change will be dead on arrival when it reaches the Democrat-controlled Senate, but that doesn’t mean the House’s proposition isn’t without merit. Nearly every American worker or business would tell you that 40 hours is the standard for a full-time workweek. As it stands now, companies with 50 or more employees must provide health insurance to full-time workers under the ACA. The 30-hour definition undermines common sense and was only put in place to increase the health care law’s reach – by lowering the number of hours to 30, businesses will be forced to provide coverage to more of their workers or face stiff penalties.

     The 30-hour full-time employee definition is just one more detrimental example of overbearing regulation on behalf of the federal government. In a perfect world, employers would adhere to the ACA without adjusting their workers' hours. But we don't live in a perfect world, and companies have a bottom line to think about. It's only logical for businesses to trim certain part-time employees' hours to save money on health coverage if they're near the 30-hour threshold – that's just the way it works. Here, however, lies one of the ACA's most painful unintended consequences. By trimming back workers' hours to dodge the health care law, companies slash their productivity while suppressing growth and limiting innovation. Not to mention the workers. Our lawmakers constantly debate raising the minimum wage to give hard-working Americans a boost, but they craft policies like the ACA that creates the opportunity for decreased hours on the job. It just doesn't make sense, and send an extremely mixed message to the American workforce.

     Changing the ACA's definition of a full-time employee to somebody that works 40 hours a week seems like the logical way to go. It lessens the incentive for companies to cut their employees' hours, but also helps out part-time workers by leaving their paycheck unaffected. It won't derail the Affordable Care Act, it doesn't alter its intended purpose, and it isn't going to ruin the law's progress. It simply defines a full workweek as 40 hours, which is a given to anyone outside of Washington. The Republicans’ move was motivated by common sense reasoning to limit some of the ACA's unintended consequences, but like so many other things, it got thrown out the window in favor of partisan loyalties.

     The more things change, the more they stay the same.