Health Insurance Options for Part-Time Employees
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also referred to as Obamacare, does not require employers to offer health insurance to part-time employees Part-time employees are defined as those who work less than 30 hours a week, and employers without healthcare coverage for part-timers will not be penalized.
The Individual Shared Responsibility Provision of the ACA that goes into effect in January 2014 requires that all individuals, including part-time workers, must either have creditable health coverage or qualify for an exemption. Individuals that do not meet either requirement will be assessed a penalty on their income tax return for the year. Part-time workers without access to job-based coverage will be responsible for obtaining their own healthcare if they do not wish to pay the tax penalty.
Individuals and families will have several options for purchasing their own health insurance. Individual plans may be purchased directly from private insurance companies. Beginning in January 2014, insurers will not be able to deny applicants that have a pre-existing condition, which may be beneficial to those individuals that are not able to work fulltime due to illness.
Part-time workers may be able to purchase health insurance via their state’s Health Insurance Marketplace, also known as the state exchange. Individuals and families may qualify for lower costs on monthly premiums based on household size and annual income. Part-time workers can also purchase insurance from a private exchange, particularly those that include on-exchange and off-exchange health plans for maximum consumer choice.
Monthly premiums for health plans purchased via a state exchange may be partially subsidized via premium tax credits. Generally these credits will be extended to non- elderly families with annual incomes of 100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty line. About half of the non-elderly population has an annual income in that range, but this varies depending on geographical location and family size.
Premium credits will only be extended to consumers who are not offered health insurance through an employer. Since about 95% of all companies that employ over 50 full-time workers already provide healthcare to those workers, subsidies will not be available to most of those who do full-time work. Full-time employees would be eligible for lower costs via subsidies only if their job-based coverage isn’t considered affordable or doesn’t meet certain minimum standards of care.
Healthcare coverage is generally considered to be affordable according to ACA standards if an employee’s premium cost is less than 9.5% of their yearly household income. The minimum standards of care are called the Essential Health Benefits, which cover 10 medical coverage categories that must be offered by every insurance plan.
Part-time workers may qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Eligibility guidelines for these programs vary by state, but are usually determined by annual income and household size.
Individuals and families that use their state exchange sites can explore their coverage options and learn whether they qualify for premium tax credits, Medicaid, or CHIP. Many states offer a free-to-use Navigator program that provides assistance in comparing and applying for healthcare. Small businesses that employ less than 50 full-time workers can use the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) to explore their options for employee coverage.