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Forty hours is full time, Donnelly says

Senator wants to end evasion of worker coverage

– U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly is trying to change the definition of a full-time worker in the federal health care law so that employers won’t cut employees’ hours to avoid providing them with medical insurance.

But if employers are slicing the hours of people now considered part-time workers, what’s to stop them from doing the same to full-time employees?

“What you would expect is that employers who have been used to 40 hours as full time would be in a position where they just handle it the way they’ve handled it for years,” Donnelly, D-Ind., said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

“Are there any guarantees? No,” he said. “I have great confidence in the employers of Indiana and the employers in this country that when the definition is the way it should be, which is what almost every American understands is 40 hours, that they will react accordingly.”

Donnelly and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, formally announced Wednesday that they have drafted a bill requiring the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to define a full-time employee as one who works at least 40 hours a week.

A regulation proposed for the law would place the number at 30 hours starting in 2014. As a result, employers across the nation reportedly are trimming the schedules of part-time employees – including Fort Wayne Community Schools, which this month reduced the hours of 610 part-time workers from 30 a week to 25.

“That’s a definition that is found nowhere else in federal law and is completely out of step with standard employment practices in the United States today,” Collins said in remarks broadcast from a Capitol Hill news conference with Donnelly.

Some employers in Maine have cut workers’ hours, filled full-time jobs with twice as many part-time workers or frozen hiring, Collins said.

The Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate applies to employers with at least 50 employees who work at least 30 hours a week. The law will impose fines of at least $40,000 a year on employers that don’t offer insurance to eligible employees.

“These penalties will discourage businesses from growing or adding jobs, particularly for firms close to the 50-job trigger,” Collins said.

She and Donnelly admitted their bill might be unpopular with colleagues who either want to repeal the Affordable Care Act or leave it as is. On the other hand, they said many senators agree that a full-time job requires 40 hours of work a week.

“Effective health care reform should expand access to care and should make our economy stronger, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Donnelly said about his and Collins’ bill, titled Forty Hours is Full Time Act.

Donnelly, then a House member, voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act when it passed in 2009. Collins voted against it.