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ADP's annual survey of health benefits for large employers reveals that just eight percent of part-time workers participate in their company health insurance plans, most because they can't afford the coverage on part-time wages. That's precisely the problem that the Affordable Care Act was intending to address—extending health care to the working poor—but is also one of the major challenges for the law. That's because employers are going to be figuring out whether to open their plans to more employees or to cut workers hours further to avoid having to provide coverage for them.

Companies that employ more than 50 full-time workers will be required by the law to offer coverage to their full-time employees or pay a $2,000 per uncovered worker fine. Some companies could decide that the $2,000 annually is cheaper than paying their share of a health plan for the employee, and pay the fine. But some companies instead are considering slashing hours for full-time (30 hours/week is considered full-time under the law) to skirt the requirement.

Employers that can't or don't want to add low-wage and part-time workers to their employee health plans are considering their options. [...]

One way to avoid the law's requirements is to reduce employees' hours to below the 30-hour threshold that marks them as full-time. Retail and food-service firms like Darden Restaurants, which owns the Olive Garden and other chains, have publicly weighed this approach, as have some universities and other employers.

The IRS is developing “anti-abuse rules” to discourage employers from trying to exploit loopholes; doing things like slashing full-time employees' hours so that they no longer meet the 50 full-time employee threshold. The rules will stipulate that "employers could still fall under the mandate if they employ enough part-time workers to equal 50 full-time workers." They will also prevent companies from using primarily temp workers in an effort to try to circumvent the law. But for some of these large employers, circumventing the law and screwing over their employees is just business as usual, so it'll be a challenge for regulators to close every possible loophole.

That will make the universal access to health insurance goal of the law harder to achieve, particularly in those states that refuse to expand Medicaid to cover more of the working poor.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Mon Feb 04, 2013 at 08:41 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos Labor, In Support of Labor and Unions, Unemployment Chronicles, and Daily Kos.

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