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Gov. Bob McDonnell cuts state employee hours to avoid Obamacare costs

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

About 10,000 Virginia public employees are poised to see their hours cut back as Gov. Bob McDonnell continues to find ways around what he said were President Obama's costly health care reforms.

Both the Virginia House and Senate passed budget amendments that will cap part-time state workers at 29 hours a week to avoid complying with a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires businesses and governments to offer health insurance to any wage employee that averages 30 hours a week. A final budget compromise will come next week and is likely to contain the language.

By ensuring no employees reach that threshold, the state estimates it will save $110 million a year that otherwise would have gone to provide benefits to workers and their families starting next year. Businesses like national pizza-maker Papa John's have threatened similar action.

Agency Number of 30+ hour-wage employees
Virginia Community College System 1,479
Virginia Commonwealth University 883
Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control 605
Norfolk State University 504
Dept. of Conservation and Recreation 500
Christopher Newport University 483
Virginia Employment Commission 433
College of William & Mary 331
Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services 317
Dept. of Motor Vehicles 200
Source: Virginia Department of Human Resource Management

"We're all grappling with the same problem," said Virginia Secretary of Administration Lisa Hicks-Thomas. "A lot of people are trying to spin this as Republicans trying to fight Obamacare, but this is just us complying with the act. We don't have $110 million to afford the implementations of this act."

It's not the first time the McDonnell administration has used the governor's powers to keep Obama's health care law out of the commonwealth. Under the Republican governor's watch, the state was the first to file suit against the law, and he has stood against the vast Medicaid expansion and a state-run health insurance exchange that seek to provide coverage to more Americans.

Maryland, which has fully embraced health care reform under Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, has not considered cutting back any employee hours to ensure they don't receive insurance.

"We're working really hard to expand coverage, not contract coverage," said Carolyn Quattrocki, executive director of the Maryland Governor's Office of Health Care Reform. "We're not intending to restrict anyone's hours."

A bulk of the employees who would see a cut in their hours are in higher education, according to a recent survey of state agencies, including nearly 1,500 community college employees. Adjunct faculty present a particular challenge, said Mel Schiavelli, executive vice president at Northern Virginia Community College, because they don't work clock hours, but rather a certain number of course credits a week.

"The planning is for no service reduction and no layoffs," Schiavelli said. "We may have to hire additional part-time employees once we see the lay of the land."

Democrats say that's one reason why the state isn't likely to save as much as it hopes by not complying.

"If you have to hire someone else to do their job, in the end, it really doesn't save you any money," said Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington. "The whole point of the law was not to try to find loopholes but expand access and care to people who really do need it."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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