Employers get an ACA break from Congress

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that would narrow the range of employees whom restaurateurs and other employers would have to offer health insurance or pay a penalty under the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate is widely expected to pass the measure as well in the next few days, but President Obama has already vowed to veto the rollback if Congress pushes it through.

The ACA mandates employers of at least 50 people to offer health insurance to full-time workers or pay a penalty. The law currently defines a full timer as someone who works at least 30 hours a week. Changing that threshold to 40 hours is a key legislative priority of restaurant employers and the industry’s lobbyists, who argue that 40 hours has long been the yardstick of fulltime employment.

They have warned that keeping the standard at 30 hours will prompt many businesses to cut workers’ hours so they fall below that trigger point.

“Setting the definition of full-time status at the traditional 40-hours per week increases worker earnings and helps alleviate the administrative burden placed on the employer community,” Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement.

Opponents contend that businesses with a high proportion of part-time employees just want to limit their exposure under the ACA and dodge potentially millions in healthcare expenses. An estimated 1 million American workers would be excluded from the law’s scope if the higher standard is adopted.

The House, now controlled by Republicans, sided with the business community yesterday, passing a bill called the Save American Workers Act. Its key component is the redefinition of a full-time job.

Republican leaders of the Senate have expressed confidence that they can steer the bill to approval by that body as well.

A two-thirds vote by Congress is needed to override a presidential veto. The vote yesterday in the House—252 for the 40-hour standard, 172 against—would not be sufficient to thwart the President.

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