By Chris Barton, director of the SEIU Nurse Alliance Northwest

Members of Congress are resuming their anti-factual attacks on the Affordable Care Act so the SEIU Nurse Alliance is resuming our “Nurses Know the Truth” blog posts. Nurse leaders nationwide will weigh in with evidence-based facts and offer our own front-line experiences, too.

First up: shedding light on the truth about the new rule that just went into effect Jan. 1 requiring employers to provide healthcare coverage to anyone who works at least 30 hours a week or else pay a penalty. Republicans trying to undo that provision are spreading three dangerous mistruths:

MISTRUTH No. 1: Obamacare’s 30-hour rule is causing working people to have their hours cut.

FACT No. 1: The United States is not experiencing a new shift toward more part-time work at all; the opposite is true.

The trend of employers shifting more working people to part-time hours began long ago, spiking at the start of the Great Recession; it has been decreasing since the new healthcare law passed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Registered nurses and many other technical staff in hospital settings typically work three 12-hour shifts per week. Given the 24-7 needs of a hospital, a 36-hour workweek makes sense for both scheduling and patient care needs.

Defining the workweek as 40 hours could negatively impact 1.7 million registered nurses and advance practice nurses employed not only by general medical and surgical hospitals, but also by other specialty hospitals and by psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, according to the American Nursing Association.

MISTRUTH No. 2: Redefining the work week as 40 hours would protect people now working full time.

FACT No. 2: It would hurt more working people as employers turn more of them into part-timers.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned, as recently as Jan. 7, that this measure was likely to create even more part-time jobs. It provides a “perverse” incentive for companies to cut hours for more people, as Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) put it. The White House noted it would “create the very problem it claims to solve.”

Given the nursing shortage in our country and the need to provide safe, quality care in the face of it, nurses probably won’t have our hours cut. However, if the workweek is defined as 40 hours, many of us who work in healthcare–the very people dedicated to providing high quality care to others–could have our employer-provided insurance coverage cut.

MISTRUTH No. 3: What this change might do to the federal budget isn’t that important.

FACT No. 3: This legislation will be costly to both working people and all taxpayers.

In fact, an estimated 1 million working people would lose their employer-provided healthcare coverage, according to the CBO. Employers who are no longer required to pay fines for not providing coverage to their employees would increase the federal deficit by $53 billion over 10 years, according to the CBO. With no plan to pay for that gap, it looks like it will be taxpayers footing the bill.

For working people such as nurses who may lose our healthcare coverage but still earn too much to qualify for any help affording coverage, the choice will be between paying out of pocket or going without health insurance. In nursing, a large percentage of our colleagues are senior staff who might be tempted to take early retirement from physically demanding jobs. Receiving good benefits, especially good healthcare coverage that can be so costly for aging workers, is a strong incentive to stay on the job and mentor the next generation.

For all these reasons, the SEIU Nurse Alliance is skeptical of efforts to move the Affordable Care Act’s definition of the work week to 40 hours for purposes of requiring employers to cover working people. We urge members of Congress to look beyond the beltway sound bites, and vote in the interests of working people in their districts.

January 22nd, 2015

Posted In: Nurse Alliance

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