Some federal agencies hate the idea of having to pay to put workers who were considered part-time employees into the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program.

Officials at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) have told them to make the change to comply with the spirit of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

PPACA added Section 4980H to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). PPACA Section 4980H requires large employers to provide health coverage for a majority of their employees in 2015 or else pay a penalty. Federal regulators have decided that employers ought to classify workers who work more than 30 hours per week, or 130 hours per month, as full-time workers for purposes of Section 4980H compliance, and they have set up special rules for classifying workers with irregular hours.

In a new final rule about how Section 4980H will work at federal agencies, OPM officials say agencies should pay FEHB program contributions for any temporary, seasonal and intermittent employees who work for the agencies more than 30 hours per week, or more than 130 hours per month.

Agencies should put the employees in the FEHB program even though the PPACA definition of “full-time employee” is different from the definition in the Federal Employees’ Part-Time Career Employment Act of 1978, OPM officials say.

Changing the existing statutory definition of part-time federal employee is outside the scope of the current regulation, officials say.

“Some federal agencies expressed concern about the effect on the budget of this coverage change, stating they may revisit their staffing models (such as hiring a different mix of  temporary, seasonal, and intermittent staff) to accommodate the rule change,” OPM officials say in the preamble to the final rule.

Some agencies may have to budget for increased health benefits costs, or even change staffing arrangements because of the shift, but “OPM continues to believe that this coverage change is  consistent with the federal government’s role as a model employer,” officials say.

See also: Employers test mix of strategies to avoid PPACA