Obamacare Employer Mandate Eased in Bill Passed by House

The House of Representatives brushed aside President Barack Obama’s veto threat and passed a bill that would revise his 2010 health-care law to ease the requirement that employers provide insurance to their workers.

The measure, passed 252-172, would require employers to provide coverage to workers who put in at least 40 hours a week. That’s up from the current 30-hour threshold, which Republicans say would cause employers to reduce hours and wages for many workers.

The bill now goes to the newly Republican-led Senate, where the Democratic minority could block the measure.

Today’s House vote, with 12 Democrats supporting the bill, shows that it lacks the two-thirds backing needed to override a presidential veto. “We will sustain the president’s veto on that,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said earlier in the day.

“The president’s threat to veto this common-sense legislation, rather than work toward bipartisan solutions to help middle-class families, is a sad commentary on where his priorities lie,” said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio in a statement after the vote.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said it was too soon to discuss the bill’s prospects without a veto-proof majority.

“First, let’s wait until it goes to the Senate,” he said.

Opening Swipe

The bill represents the Republican Congress’s opening swipe against the Affordable Care Act. Although it is short of an all-out attempt at repeal, promised by House and Senate Republican leaders, previous House votes showed that today’s measure would draw at least a few Democratic crossover votes.

“It is simply unfair to try to finance health care for some hard-working American people on the backs of other hardworking Americans through a reduction in hours and wages,” said Representative Todd Young, an Indiana Republican and the bill’s main sponsor.

By raising the threshold requiring insurance coverage to 40 hours a week, Young said, “we remove this perverse incentive to reduce hours and wages when they are most needed by our hourly workers.”

He cited analysts who say 2.6 million workers in the U.S. earn less than $30,000 a year and are most at risk.

Signature Accomplishment

Obamacare, passed with no Republican votes, is the president’s signature domestic accomplishment. About 10 million Americans have gained health coverage through expanded employer-based insurance and Medicaid, as well as state or federal insurance exchanges, according to the administration.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the health-care law in 2012 and this year will hear a challenge to tax credits that have helped millions of people afford insurance.

Senator Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said Census data show that the vast majority of U.S. employees work 40 hours or more a week.

That’s why there “is widespread concern” many workers will see their hours cut if Republicans succeed in changing Obamacare’s definition of full-time work, Levin said.

The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers offer health insurance coverage to employees or pay a penalty is scheduled to start this year for businesses with 100 or more full-time employees and in 2016 for employers with 50 to 99 full-time workers.

CBO Report

The Congressional Budget Office said in a report yesterday that the measure would increase the U.S. budget deficit by more than $53 billion over the next 10 years.

The legislation would reduce the number of people receiving employment-based coverage by about 1 million people, the report said. Most of those would instead get coverage through Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and health insurance exchanges, while as many as 500,000 would go uninsured, CBO said.

“It will increase the ranks of the uninsured up to a half-a-million people,” Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters today. “That’s not right.”

The bill also would reduce the number of employers that are assessed penalties and cut the penalties for some others.

Passage of the measure will be more difficult in the Senate, which Republicans control 54-46 although Democrats have the ability to block legislation.

Yesterday, Obama’s budget office said the president would veto the measure, H.R. 30, if it reached his desk.

The proposal would increase the budget deficit, reduce the number of Americans able to obtain employer-based health insurance and create incentives for employers to shift workers to part-time duties, according to the administration statement.

“While the administration welcomes ideas to improve the law, H.R. 30 would shift costs to taxpayers, put workers’ hours at risk and disrupt health insurance coverage,” the administration said.

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