House passage last week of a bill redefining full-time employment under the law's employer mandate from 30 to 40 hours a week represents the first test of the new Republican-controlled Congress' ability to dent the healthcare reform law.
But the measure faces difficulties in the Senate, where Republicans haven't yet lined up enough Democrats to overcome a filibuster. And both chambers lack enough votes to override a promised presidential veto.
The legislation, supported by 12 House Democrats, would alter the definition of full-time work under the Affordable Care Act from 30 hours a week to 40 for the purpose of calculating whether an employer is required to provide health coverage. Under the law, businesses with at least 100 employees must offer coverage this year to most workers or face a penalty, typically $2,000 per worker. In 2016, the employer mandate will apply to businesses with 50 or more employees.
Supporters, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that the current standard provides an incentive for employers to reduce hours, particularly for low-wage workers, in order to avoid offering healthcare coverage. But opponents, including some prominent conservative analysts, argue that the GOP bill would create an incentive for employers to trim the hours of the larger population of employees who work 40 hours or more. Those conservative critics want to jettison the employer mandate entirely.
The Congressional Budget Office projected that the bill would increase the deficit by $53 billion over a decade because fewer employers would pay penalties and more workers would shift to federally subsidized coverage on the exchanges. The CBO also estimated that 1 million fewer individuals would be offered job-based coverage.
Prospects for a Senate vote were uncertain as of last week. Procedural rules require 60 votes to consider most legislation. That means Republicans will have to entice six senators who caucus with the Democrats to join them. As of last week they had only two—Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. It's thought that Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Angus King of Maine and Mark Warner of Virginia also might support the bill.
But President Barack Obama said last week he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.