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Health care edict’s delay won’t affect FWCS cuts

The White House has given employers an extra year to comply with a federal mandate for providing health insurance to workers, but Fort Wayne Community Schools won’t take it.

“We’re just not going to make any changes at this time,” school district spokeswoman Melanie Hall said Wednesday.

A month ago, the district reduced the hours of 610 part-time teaching aides and cafeteria workers from 30 a week to 25 in anticipation of hefty fines against large employers that fail to offer health coverage to employees who work at least 30 hours a week.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced Tuesday that the insurance mandate, a key component of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, would take effect in 2015 rather than Jan. 1 as scheduled. Various business advocacy groups applauded the delay. In late May, FWCS officials blamed state funding cuts and general budget constraints as more reasons for trimming the hours of part-time employees.

“That decision was made primarily as a budget savings decision,” Hall said. “It is going to save us $1.6 million to reduce the hours. Our budget situation hasn’t changed. And therefore our decision isn’t going to change, either.”

Sens. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote a letter two weeks ago to President Barack Obama urging him to allow employers a penalty-free transition period after Jan. 1 to comply with the insurance mandate. Donnelly said Wednesday the letter might have contributed to the postponement of the regulation.

“I think it was delayed because a Republican senator asked for a delay; a Democrat senator asked for a delay, other people asked for a delay,” Donnelly said in a telephone interview. “It was something both (political parties) were requesting, that chambers of commerce were requesting, that businesses were requesting, that workers were requesting.”

But during a Wednesday visit to Fort Wayne, Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, said the additional year will make little difference.

“The delay is too late because a lot of companies are already making plans for next year. Probably a lot of them are going to move forward with their plans as if (the mandate) would be in place,” Stutzman said after participating in a ground-breaking ceremony for the expansion of the north-side headquarters of Shambaugh & Son, a commercial and industrial construction company.

“We’re only pushing off the inevitable,” Stutzman said. “The White House has to say this is going to work or else it’s going to implode.”

Both Stutzman and Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., have called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which Donnelly voted for in 2009 as a member of the House.

In a statement late Tuesday, Coats said, “We need to repeal the deeply flawed health care law and replace it with step-by-step reforms that actually lower costs and put patients, not bureaucrats, in charge of their own health care decisions.”

The delay of the insurance requirement buys more time for Donnelly to try to change the Affordable Care Act’s definition of a full-time employee as someone who works at least 30 hours a week.

He and Collins have introduced legislation that would raise the number to 40 hours a week.

“I know both Sen. Collins and I are looking for additional co-sponsors,” Donnelly said. “It’s a bill that makes sense, and I think we will continue to see it make progress.”