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How will Obamacare affect part-time workers?

If you work a part-time job -- whether it's waiting tables, trimming trees for the city or teaching at a local community college -- you might be wondering how health care reform will affect you.

Obamacare and part time workersExperts say that depends on many factors, including:

 • Your employer.
 • How many hours per week you currently work.
 • How much you make.
 • Whether you have health insurance now.

The federal health care reform law passed in 2010, also known as Obamacare, defines full-time employees as those who work 30 or more hours per week. The law requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance for full-time employees or pay a yearly fine of at least $2,000 per employee, with some exceptions.

How Obamacare will affect part-time employees

In general, experts say the law will benefit part-time employees in these two ways:

 • Scenario No. 1: Your employer decides to offer you health insurance. Some companies are simply choosing to provide group health insurance for employees who didn't have it before, says Jeffrey Ingalls, president of the insurance and brokerage consulting firm The Stratford Financial Group and author of the book "Healthcare Reform Made Easy." Companies that already offer benefits to other employees and don't have a large number of part-time workers are more likely to be able to offer insurance, he says. "Most of the employers I've dealt with are just going to offer coverage," he says.

 • Scenario No. 2: You buy quality health insurance on your own. Part-time employees who don't get health coverage through work will be able to buy insurance on the exchanges, health insurance marketplaces created in each state as a result of reform. The insurance offered in the exchanges will include coverage in 10 "essential health benefits" categories, including emergency care, hospitalization, prescription drug coverage, mental health services, and maternity and newborn care. The exchanges will give consumers shopping on the individual market access to coverage that's comparable to group insurance offered by an employer, says John Rother, president and CEO of the advocacy group National Coalition on Health Care.

The employer mandate

But there is a big downside to the employer mandate in the health care reform law: Employers ranging from sandwich shops to city governments to community colleges have publicly announced plans to cut worker hours in response to the Obamacare employer mandate.

According to the 2013 Executive Employer Survey ) by employment and labor law firm Littler Mendelson, 27 percent of the 400 employers surveyed said that, due to health care reform, they are considering limiting more employees to fewer than 30 hours per week. And 20 percent said they were considering hiring fewer full-time employees in the future.

But a recent decision could mean part-time employees won't see the effects of the mandate right away. In July 2013, the Obama administration announced that the employer mandate would be delayed by one year -- so, large businesses now have until January 2015 to provide health insurance or pay a fine.

"We think health insurance should be provided, but we just can't afford it," says Robert Miller, director of human resources for the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District, which relies on part-time employees for insect control.

And Miller, who also serves on the Society for Human Resource Management special expertise labor relations panel, says many private and public employers must carefully track employee hours in order to stay under 30, to avoid having to provide health insurance or pay a fine.

"It's very disheartening when you have to tell an employee they're not going to receive a full paycheck," he says.

While Ingalls says he hasn't seen any companies he works with cut employee hours specifically in response to reform, he predicts companies will take Obamacare into account as they make future hiring decisions. For example, some employers are taking a serious look at the idea of job sharing: splitting a full-time position between two employees.

But if you're a part-time employee wondering how health care reform will affect you in the near future, experts say that depends on these three factors.

1. What your employer decides to do.

How your employer responds to the new employer mandate likely will depend on many variables, including their budget and how many part-time employees they have, Ingalls says. A business, such as a small local restaurant chain that relies heavily on part-timers and doesn't offer any health benefits, might be more likely than other types of businesses to cut hours, he says.

2. How many hours per week you work.

Employees who already work fewer than 30 hours a week should see only positive change: More health insurance options via the exchanges, Ingalls says.

3. How much money you make.

If your household income is between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level -- or between $23,550 and $94,200 for a family of four in 2013 -- you could qualify for a subsidy to help pay your health insurance premium. A subsidy could make quality insurance affordable for you, Ingalls says.

But, the delay of the mandate until 2015 likely means many employees won’t see big changes until closer to that time. Ingalls says: "Employers who were on the verge of making changes but didn't make them already will probably put them on hold."

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