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Obamacare employer mandate poses challenges for schools

By Kentucky Health News

While Kentucky public-school employees get their health insurance through the state’s self-funded program and don’t have to worry too much about how federal health reform may affect them, their employers do, Madelynn Coldiron points out in the November issue of the Kentucky School Board Advocate.

“School districts probably thought that they were not involved in the ACA or it was not a hot-button issue for them, but it really is,” Shannon Stiglitz, a lobbyist for the Kentucky School Boards Association, which publishes the Advocate, told Coldiron. “They do have roles and responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act and they need to be aware of them or costly penalties could be incurred.”

Obamacare will require employers with 50 or more employees working 30 hours or more a week or 130 hours a month to cover them or pay a fine starting Jan. 1, 2015. Almost all Kentucky school districts have at least that many employees, said Susan Barkley, assistant director of the state Department of Education’s Division of District Support, which created an ACA implementation guide for school districts.

The law means that districts may have to make some employment changes, or changes to employment policies. What’s very complicated for schools is documenting actual time worked for people in positions like substitute teachers, paraprofessional coaches and part-time employees, Barkley told Coldiron. And, Stiglitz said, districts must be careful because if a school district worker who is eligible for coverage instead purchases a health plan from the state’s marketplace, the district faces a big fine.

To control costs, local boards can amend policies to limit the number of hours or days that “variable hour employees” like substitute teachers or coaches may work, Bass said. Or, substitutes who turn down assignments after they’ve worked enough hours to qualify for health insurance may be terminated. News reports across the country have detailed school systems’ plans to cut some substitute teachers and college adjunct professors as a result of the health law’s mandates.

“School districts are facing vexing financial and operational questions about how they will comply with the Affordable Care Act, which some administrators say is forcing them to choose between absorbing the hefty costs of health coverage for currently uninsured employees or cutting back on those workers’ hours,” reports Sean Cavanagh of Education Week.

Next week the federal House Committee on Education and the Workforce will hold a hearing to learn more about how Obamacare is affecting schools. Meanwhile, districts are waiting for additional Internal Revenue Service guidelines regarding substitute teachers and short-term employees.

For more information about the health law’s impact on Kentucky’s school districts, click here to view the education department’s ACA guide.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.