(Bloomberg) — Newly empowered Republicans say they can’t repeal Obamacare and plan to chip away at the law piece by piece, starting with redefining full-time work in a way that could affect health coverage for 1 million people.
House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday said they want to rewrite the Patient Protection and Affordable Care (PPACA) Act so employers could avoid providing health coverage to workers who put in less than 40 hours a week — up from the law’s current 30-hour threshold.
The move is backed by business groups such as the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association. The measure, which would face a presidential veto, would make it easier for employers to shift more workers to part-time status and avoid buying insurance or paying fines under a provision of the law taking effect at the end of the year.
The likely result: A million people would lose employer- paid health care and have to look for subsidized coverage on government insurance exchanges or go on Medicaid, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That’s just the opening round.
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McConnell said after his party won control of the Senate in the Nov. 4 mid-term election that Republicans wouldn’t able to repeal the health-care law as long as Barack Obama is president and would instead seek to limit its scope.
“Their strategy of choice will be piecemeal attempts to repeal parts of the statute, and it’s clear that the 40-hour rule may very well be part of that litany,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a Washington-based advocacy group that supports the health-care law.
The maneuver taps into public anxiety that the law would create incentives for employers to reduce workers’ hours to avoid paying fines or purchasing insurance. The Republican leaders borrowed language from the labor movement, characterizing the proposal as an effort “to restore the traditional 40-hour definition of full-time employment” in an op-ed article published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal.
McConnell, of Kentucky, and Boehner, of Ohio, are returning to a proposal that the Republican-led House passed in April, with the support of 18 Democrats. The White House threatened a veto and the Democratic-controlled Senate never took up the legislation.
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Obama would reject the new effort to change the law.
“The proposal they offered before, it kicked a lot of people off of health care and cost a lot of money,” Pfeiffer told Bloomberg reporters and editors today in an interview. “It was bad policy and bad for the American people.”
Obama is “not going to accept anything that undermines the core elements of the health-care act, that takes health care away from 10 million people who have it,” he said.
The Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate requires companies with at least 100 employees to offer affordable insurance coverage next year to at least 70 percent of those who work 30 or more hours per week.
While raising that threshold “wouldn’t have a meaningful effect on the number of people who have insurance,” it would “essentially wipe out” the employer mandate, said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-policy research group.