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Obamacare and the 29-Hour Ceiling

11:46 AM, Oct 22, 2012 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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In the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson highlights how Obamacare would needlessly complicate our society, make it more maddeningly litigious, give the I.R.S. more prominence, and make it harder for workers to get employers to give them so much as 30 hours a week. 

health care

Samuelson writes that Obamacare would (at least for its purposes) alter the definition of “full-time worker.”  Currently the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a “full-time worker” as someone who works at least 35 hours a week.  Obamacare would lower that to 30 hours a week.  Samuelson writes, “The difference matters, because [Obamacare] requires employers with 50 or more full-time workers to provide health insurance for those workers. At the same time, no company has to buy insurance for part-time employees, defined as those working less than 30 hours a week.”  In other words, under Obamacare, get ready for the prominence of the 29-hour work week — with corresponding pay.

Of course, nothing can be quite so simple under a “law” that runs 2,700 pages in length and has already spawned an amazing 13,000 pages (and counting) of new bureaucratic regulations.  Samuelson writes:

“Just recently, the Internal Revenue Service issued an 18-page, single-spaced notice explaining how to distinguish between full-time and part-time workers under the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’)….

“Here’s a sample:

“This notice expands the safe harbor method described in a previous notice to provide employers the option to use a look-back measurement period of up to 12 months to determine whether new variable hour employees or seasonal employees are full-time employees, without being subject to a payment under section 4980H for this period with respect to those employees.”

Samuelson continues:

“Employers have a huge incentive to hold workers under the 30-hour weekly threshold. The requirement to provide insurance above that acts as a steep employment tax. Companies will try to minimize the tax. The most vulnerable workers are the poorest and least skilled who can be most easily replaced and for whom insurance costs loom largest. Indeed, the adjustment has already started.

“As first reported in the Orlando Sentinel, Darden Restaurants — owners of about 2,000 outlets including the Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains — is studying ways to shift more employees under the 30-hour ceiling. About three-quarters of its 185,000 workers are already under, says spokesman Rich Jeffers. The question is ‘can we go higher and still deliver a great [eating] experience.’ The financial stakes are sizable. Suppose Darden moves 1,000 servers under 30 hours and avoids paying $5,000 insurance for each. The annual savings: $5 million.”

As all of this plainly suggests, Obamacare will almost surely enhance employment prospects for lawyers and tax collectors, two of President Obama’s favorite professions.  For those in other lines of work, or those concerned about their liberty, the only acceptable option would seem to be repeal.  

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