By Alex Bridges
Employees of area local government and public school divisions may see their hours cut as a result of federal health care reform.
In Shenandoah County, Administrator Mary T. Price told the Board of Supervisors this week that the county plans to take steps to avoid having to provide health insurance coverage for part-time workers as required under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Federal regulations require local governments with 50 full-time employees to provide insurance coverage to full-time staff and part-time workers who work 30 hours or more per week. The rules affect most but not all local governments in the valley.
"What we plan to do, if we have a part-time employee normally working the 32 hours, we will drop them below the 30," Price explained. "It will not amount to any additional dollars. ... It just means you would have to possibly add another person or we'll have to come up with a better plan to manage the hours."
Price said the effective date of the health care regulation has been delayed until Jan. 1, 2015 -- the middle of the fiscal year. However, the requirement that the county pay an annual "reinsurance" fee of $63 per employee took effect Jan. 1.
Shenandoah County employs approximately 78 part-time workers, including the seven members of the Board of Supervisors, according to information from Price. The Parks and Recreation Department has a pool of nearly 80 people it hires for seasonal help not considered part-time or full-time.
Price noted that they are still learning about the federal law and how it affects local governments.
"We want to get a better handle, too, on the reporting requirements," Price said. "We've heard so many different scenarios. We have to learn a little bit more about that process as well."
Shenandoah County employs 282 full-time workers. That includes 35 employees in the Department of Social Services and 21 in the sanitary districts.
Shenandoah County Public Schools officials also have looked at how the federal regulations would affect their employment policies. Director of Human Resources Mark Johnston said the school system employs 959 full-time employees, who receive health insurance benefits, and 11 part-time employees.
"When we first looked at the implications of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for us, with the new definition of 'full-time' being 30 or more hours per week, on average, we were concerned about risk of additional cost with our substitute teachers," Johnston said.
Warren County officials continue to look into the matter as they work on next year's budget.
County Administrator Doug Stanley said this week that no decision has been made on how the government would handle the matter of part-time hours and insurance coverage.
The county has approximately 205 full-time employees and 75 part-time. Stanley said he estimates 25-50 of the county's part-time staff work 29 hours or more per week on average. But he explained that reducing one person's hours below 30 hours could mean another employee might work more to make up the time, and the end result would show no change from the county's budget perspective. He said some part-time employees specifically ask for fewer than 30 hours.
Frederick County has 625 full-time employees and approximately 150 part-time workers, though the latter number should increase in the summer months, according to information from Director of Human Resources Nancy Nofsinger.
"In preparation of the ACA requirements, this past year we have updated our employment classification policy to better clarify our part-time employment categories," Nofsinger stated by email Thursday. "As a result, this has affected five current, part-time employees whose hours have been decreased."
Front Royal employs 162 full-time and 12 part-time workers, according Director of Human Resources Julie Bush. She said Wednesday that town is still looking into the issue of part-time hours and the health care regulations. No policy has not yet been implanted.
Strasburg employs 58 full-time workers and eight part-time staff, according to information from Finance Director Dottie Mullins. Strasburg changed its personnel policy last July to limit part-time workers to no more than 29 hours per week. Mullins said the town didn't need to hire more part-time people to make up for the work hours lost.
Woodstock has 51 full-time employees and five, non-seasonal part-time workers, according to information from Director of Finance Mandy Belyea. The town changed the definition of "full-time" employee in May from someone who works 35-40 hours per week to 30-40 hours. The town now defines a part-time employee as someone assigned regular working hours of less than 30 hours per week. The previous policy defined part-time as less than 35 hours per week, Belyea explained.
"Because the Affordable Care Act calls for us to provide health care benefits to those employees working 30 or more hours and because town policy calls for us [to] provide benefits to all full-time employees, a change to the definition of 'full-time' and 'part-time' was necessary," Belyea said Thursday. "The change was not the result of attempting to avoid paying health insurance for our part-time employees; instead, the change was necessary in order to align our personnel policy with the changes that came about as a result of the Affordable Care Act."
Woodstock's part-time employees work on average 24 hours per week so, as Belyea explained, these workers already fall below the threshold.
Many provisions in the legislation do not apply to the towns of Edinburg, Mount Jackson, New Market, Toms Brook, Stephens City and Middletown because they employ fewer than 50 full-time workers, according to information provided by officials from these jurisdictions.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org