The Herald Bulletin

February 6, 2014

Local schools cut part-time worker hours to comply with health care law

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — As Congress debates what's considered full-time work under the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, Madison County school officials have already moved to trim the hours of part-time employees.

Full-time school employees are generally eligible for health insurance.

But support staff such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, instructional aides and custodians — most of whom work less than 40 hours per week — did not receive benefits.

The 2010 law mandates that public and private employees with at least 50 workers provide health insurance to their full-time employees. Under the law, however, a full-time worker is defined as anyone working an average of 30 hours a week. That's a significant change, and one that could be costly because of steep penalties associated with the new health care law.

Dennis L. Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, said many school districts have made the tough decision to cut the hours of part-time employees rather than face the prospect of sharply higher health insurance costs or fines.

Fort Wayne schools employ more than 600 part-time workers and estimated the cost of providing health insurance benefits to them could be upwards of $10 million.

"Unfortunately, schools have had to be innovative to deal with this because they don’t have the extra dollars to meet those needs," Costerison said, adding that the association supports efforts by Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th District, and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., change the definition.

"I know that there has been a huge impact on part-time employers we hire," said Chris Boots, president of South Madison Community Schools Board of Trustees. "We've had to cut their hours."

Ken McCarty, business manager for South Madison, said about 130 employees were affected by the so-called employer mandate.

He conducted a study, which found that providing health insurance to those employees would cost about $1.2 million and no way to pay for it. "The new law did not come with any additional funding," McCarty said.

"Obviously, $1.2 million in a budget our size (about $28 million in fiscal 2014), is a lot."

Last fall, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service over the employer mandate.

Joined by 39 Indiana school districts, the lawsuit contends the IRS rules are being wrongly applied to school corporations.

"We always strive to be good stewards of tax dollars in educating our community's students, but our school corporations' efforts are undermined by the IRS overstepping its bounds that Congress set," Zoeller said.

The IRS, Zoeller said, is interfering with Indiana's ability to manage its own employees.

Ivy Tech Community College President Tom Snyder told members of the House Ways and Means Committee last month the cost of offering health insurance to part-time adjunct professors would be $10 million to $12 million.

Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th District, said she was encouraged that the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this week advanced the bill that would "restore the traditional work week," from 30 hours to 40 hours.

"One of the worst unintended consequences is in our school system, where substitute teachers, coaches, and instructional assistants — particularly those who work with our special needs children — have seen their hours reduced."

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