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Health Law Requirements Squeeze Some Part Time Workers

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Some school districts and state and local governments are limiting part-time workers’ hours or letting them go to comply with the Affordable Care Act.

And it’s not all political.

This month in Delaware, which has embraced the health law, officials decided to limit all casual and seasonal employees, including substitute teachers, to fewer than 30 hours a week to save on health insurance. About 376 workers from education, corrections, and homeland security agencies could be affected.

In Pennsylvania, at least 10 school districts have slashed hours or outsourced their workers, including bus drivers, food service workers, and instructional aides. In New Jersey, the Burlington City school board is outsourcing paraprofessionals and substitute teachers to a Cherry Hill firm.

In 2015, the act will require all employers with 50 or more full-time workers to provide health insurance. It set the full-time-employee threshold at 30 hours per week, or 130 hours each month. Employers must decide to offer coverage to these workers or keep them from working more.

“It is, simply put, a dumb provision,” said Uwe Reinhardt, a Princeton University health economist. “The regulators should have known that this part of the law would give mischief.”

Dan Egan, spokesman for Pennsylvania’s Office of Administration, said 677 of up to 8,000 part-time employees would be considered full-time under the new rules. But the state already offers health insurance to state employees working at least 18.75 hours a week.

“We think the overall impact is going to be pretty minimal for the commonwealth,” Egan said.

In New Jersey, where 32 hours a week is already considered full-time, Treasury spokesman Bill Quinn said the state was waiting for IRS guidance before making a decision.

Middletown Township, near the Shore, is cutting hours for about 25 of its 150 part-timers under the new rules, mostly school crossing guards and seasonal workers.

Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante said expanding coverage to these workers was too costly. Plans for a full-time worker with a family plan average between $21,000 and $24,000 a year, he said. It’s especially hard for smaller towns like those at the Shore, which rely more on part-timers than larger towns, he said.

The purpose of the employer mandate, which was delayed to 2015 earlier this year, was to ensure fair treatment of workers and expand coverage.

“I don’t think they anticipated that this was going to be the reaction, especially for government where you have such few sources of revenue,” said Sue Dry, director of human resources for Lancaster County. That county chose to limit the hours of its part-time workers, affecting about 50 people. “It would be good to have some leeway rather than it be black and white” involving employee hours, said Jeff Ammerman, director of technical assistance for the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.