A workweek tweak that's worth the fight

John O'Connor
John O'Connor

So much for a renewed spirit of cooperation in Washington. Even before our latest Congress was sworn in Tuesday, the White House was throwing down the gauntlet.

Specifically, the administration made it clear that a proposed tweak to the new healthcare law would be vetoed, should it reach the president's desk.

A GOP House measure aims to require companies to offer healthcare coverage to employees who work 40 hours per week, instead of the 30-hour threshold under the reforms known as Obamacare.

Republican lawmakers are arguing — and I have to agree — that the new health law has caused employers to cut worker hours in order to avoid offering health coverage. One unfortunate result is that many frontline employees are facing the prospect of working two or more part-time jobs in order to make ends meet. In other words, this existing provision of Obamacare is a major hassle for both managers and workers.

The White House has weakly countered that raising the base to 40 hours would also raise the deficit. You know you must be living in strange times when Republicans are calling for higher spending while Democrats demand parsimony.

It can get a bit confusing when both parties start spreading their respective talking points. So I reached out to a straight shooter who knows a thing or two about the nuts-and-bolts of long-term care scheduling: Mark Woodka, the CEO of OnShift. (In the spirit of full disclosure, his scheduling software firm does advertise with McKnight's.)

Mark replied it would be much easier for schedulers/managers to work with the 40-hour rule for several reasons.

“Scheduling and managing staff to 40 hours is in people's muscle memory. You don't want all your staff to be 40-hour workers because then when you have a call-off or need a shift filled, you are likely putting someone into overtime,” he noted.

“Most shifts range from 7-7.5 work hours plus a 30-minute break, so the 30-hour rule doesn't conveniently fall at a natural shift break. 24.5 or 32 hours would make more sense because then you could schedule three to four full shifts to fit into the lower threshold. Finally, if I have to manage a subset of my workforce to 30 hours, it will likely drive the need to have more staff.”

At this point, it remains to be seen whether the move to raise the threshold from 30 to 40 hours will become law. What's absolutely certain is that we can expect a hammer-and-tongs fight to ensue. And that truly is unfortunate. For if the top priority in Washington was to do what's right, this adjustment would simply have happened, with little fanfare.

But the reality is that many of our lawmakers are beholden to the check writers and party leaders who have put them where they are. Under such conditions, doing the right thing can be an unaffordable luxury.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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