Employers and workers are making new calculations that likely will add part-time workers and those who have lost their jobs to the 7 million shoppers expected to buy federally subsidized coverage on the exchanges for 2014.
Some employers already are shifting workers into the state exchanges. Grocery chain Trader Joe's and retailer Home Depot announced in October that they would no longer offer health benefits to part-time workers.
Observers say these moves by employers foreshadow a larger shift away from employer-based coverage and toward coverage through the state exchanges. They could also increase federal costs for premium subsidies targeted to lower- and moderate-income people.
This type of move is one strategy by employers to lessen healthcare benefit costs and respond to new regulations in effect next year under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The law requires large employers to provide health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week or else pay a penalty. Though regulators will not enforce that rule until 2015, employers are moving to change benefits regardless as the law's soon-to-open exchanges create a new alternative to job-based insurance.