OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Some state and local governments are thinking about pushing the part-time workers in their health plans into the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) health insurance exchange (HIX) system.
Washington state lawmakers have been seriously considering a push-to-exchange proposal, and Rick Johnson, who advises state and local governments on health care policy at the New York-based consulting firm Segal Company, said he expects other governments will also be looking at the push-to-exchange option.
“I can see that as one of the solutions out there,” Johnson said.
A spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declined comment, and it’s unclear whether the federal government accounted for this possible outcome.
When HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified today at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the HHS budget, a senator asked her about press coverage of the proposed Washington state push-to-exchange effort. Sebelius said she had not heard about the proposal.
While Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern about the Washington state plan this year, it is drawing growing interest among a bipartisan group of political leaders in the state.
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who supported PPACA while in Congress, has reservations about the plan.
But the former congressman said PPACA doesn’t dictate how employers and employees should handle insurance coverage and indicated that he may consider supporting the idea in the future.
“It’s one of those ideas that’s premature for us to launch this year, but I don’t think we should take it off the table,” Inslee said Tuesday.
The Washington state proposal has come before lawmakers as governments around the nation are formulating strategies to manage those who don’t work 40 hours a week, since the federal law requires employers to provide coverage for those working at least 30 hours.
Virginia, for example, is requiring all part-time employees to work fewer than 30 hours, which will help the state avoid penalties for not providing health coverage. Florida, facing a potential $300 million penalty for not covering workers who have 30 to 39 hours a week, is moving to extend coverage to those employees.
Washington state is in a less common situation, since it already provides coverage for part-timers down to 20 hours a week.
Budget writers in Olympia say their plan would save Washington state $120 million over the next two years. However, it would consequently push more health care costs onto the federal government, since many low-income part-time state employees and education workers would likely qualify for federal subsidies.
Under the proposal, which has been advanced as a way to help deal with a $1.2 billion budget shortfall, Washington state would make policy changes and secure agreements in which staffers who work between 20 and 30 hours a week would get extra compensation but lose state health coverage. They would then be eligible to get health care in the exchange system, without any consequence for the state.
K-12 workers would have to adopt new bargaining agreements to implement the change, though the state would help by offering sweeteners that would be equivalent to as much as a $2 per hour raise.
Rick Chisa, political director at the Public School Employees of Washington, said the union is open to shifting some workers to the exchange but didn’t feel that the current proposal — an inducement valued at perhaps $200 a month for someone working 25 hours a week — provided an adequate incentive, especially if it may be taxed as compensation.