On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would change the Affordable Care Act's (ACA's) definition of a full-time employee from one who works at least 30 hours a week to one who works at least 40. The bill will now move to the Senate, which is also controlled by a Republican majority after November's mid-term elections. It is unclear whether there will be sufficient support in the Senate to move the measure to a vote. The White House has indicated that President Obama will veto the bill should it pass both chambers.
If enacted, the changed workweek definition would have a significant impact on employers and workers. Large employers are required to provide affordable health coverage for full-time employees. Some employers have considered scaling back hours to reduce the number of full-time employees they have, allowing them to comply with the law without offering the coverage, which for some employers may be cost-prohibitive. Changing the threshold to 40 hours, which is consistent with the threshold in other laws, notably the Fair Labor Standards Act, would ease the cost burden for many employers. Workers not covered under an employer-sponsored plan would in some cases be eligible for subsidies to purchase individual coverage in the state-run insurance marketplaces. Critics of the measure say that it would undermine the ACA and has the potential to make it not sustainable. Additionally, it could leave a gap in coverage for some of the "working poor," those individuals whose income is too high to qualify for Medicaid or other public programs, but too low to qualify for insurance exchange subsidies, and who may not be able to afford to purchase coverage individually.