The Affordable Care Act and Higher Education

AFT members are already familiar with many of the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections: allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26; ending discrimination against individuals with pre-existing conditions; prohibiting insurance companies from charging women more than men for the same plan; eliminating lifetime limits on care; and restricting insurers’ spending on executive salaries, advertising and overhead. For many people, preventive care is fully covered with no co-pays or deductibles, and the narrowing of the Medicare prescription drug "doughnut hole" means that many seniors are better able to afford their medications.

However, as the law approaches full implementation, questions remain. One pressing concern is how contingent faculty will be treated when the act fully takes effect in 2014. The AFT has been in discussions with the U.S. Treasury Department on many aspects of the ACA and its definition of “full time” as it applies to the employer penalty. Some colleges have jumped the gun on this unresolved issue, cutting back on the number of hours they are assigning to part-time faculty.

Defining "full time"

Starting in 2015, the Affordable Care Act levies penalties against large employers (those with at least 50 employees) that do not offer affordable health coverage to their full-time employees. The law defines a “full-time employee” as one who works at least 30 hours per week on average. On Jan. 2, Treasury issued proposed rules regarding the determination of full-time status for the purpose of the employer penalty for failing to provide full-time employees with health coverage. Even though these are “proposed” rules, employers can rely on them unless final rules are issued. Note that the Affordable Care Act does not supersede collectively bargained language, including contract language on benefits eligibility or teaching load.

The AFT weighs in

We know that some institutions are capping teaching loads for part-time and adjunct faculty in response to the individual institution’s interpretation of ACA regulations. Many of these caps assume a definition of “full time” for contingent faculty that does not exist in federal law or policy. Federal regulators have not determined an equivalency between credit hours taught and hours worked per week.

Is your employer cutting your members work load and blaming it on the ACA?  We want to hear from you!

The rules proposed on Jan. 2 mention the situation of adjunct faculty, but do not resolve the question of how their full-time status should be determined. The proposed rules do, however, require employers to use a “reasonable method” for crediting hours of service for adjuncts. The rules state that “it would not be a reasonable method of crediting hours … to take into account only classroom or other instruction time and not other hours that are necessary to perform the employee’s duties, such as class preparation time” (Federal Register, p. 225). You can read the full text of the proposed rules as published in the Federal Register

 The AFT urges Treasury to stay true to the spirit of the Affordable Care Act, which envisioned widespread access to affordable health coverage. The AFT believes that: 

  1. Federal regulators should not allow the law to be used as a cover for bad employer behavior. The law should not be used improperly to reduce faculty workload, and Treasury should clarify that this was not the intent of the law or regulations.
  2. Colleges and universities must not be permitted to reduce contingent faculty course loads and shirk the responsibility of providing health coverage under the guise of complying with the ACA, which was intended to lead to more healthcare coverage, not less.
  3. Contingent faculty members must be treated as professionals.

The AFT would like to see guidance from federal regulators that incorporates these principles either in the rules or in other guidance directed at institutions of higher education.  

AFT comments on the Affordable Care Act

You can find the AFT’s comments on this and other Affordable Care Act issues here: