The headline for this story says that Texas school districts are “struggling” to deal with requirements of the Affordable Care Act, but there’s not much evidence of actual struggles in the story itself.
Texas school districts are scrambling to meet an Affordable Care Act provision that requires them to offer health insurance to thousands of substitute teachers, bus drivers and other workers who clock at least 30 hours a week.
While many of these workers are already eligible for health insurance, tracking compliance is proving cumbersome for administrators. Compared with traditional employers, school systems rely on more variable-hour workers and follow an unusual calendar.
“It’s kind of a nightmare. It’s extremely complex,” said Holly Murphy, senior attorney for the Texas Association of School Boards, who is touring the state to address school administrators’ questions about the new requirement.
How districts choose to handle the mandate could spell either good or bad news for employees. Some school systems may cap part-time employees’ hours, while others appear to be creating new full-time positions to ease the demand from hourly workers. Both options should make the bookkeeping aspect of compliance prior to the Jan. 1 deadline simpler, officials said.
The Fort Bend Independent School District posted job openings for 74 educational assistants – one at each campus – who will essentially be full-time substitutes eligible for benefits. Those positions should help take pressure off the district’s pool of 1,000 part-time substitutes, administrators said, although the district would still face the increased cost of providing benefits to more employees.
“We basically solved the issue around the Affordable Care Act,” said Kermit Spears, chief human resources officer at Fort Bend ISD.
Groups of suburban and rural school districts are considering creating co-ops that could share and provide benefits for full-time substitutes, Murphy said.
Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said limiting hours isn’t in the spirit of the law and wouldn’t even be an option in the Houston ISD, which already struggles with substitute shortages.
“That’s the sort of shoddy behavior we were worried about,” she said.
She applauded the Houston ISD’s move to begin offering this month a basic $5-a-month health insurance plan to employees earning under $25,000 a year.
“HISD did very early compliance,” Fallon said. “We have paraprofessionals and clerks and food service and custodial (employees) who can afford insurance for the first time, and we got told instantly it was the Affordable Care Act that did this.”
Sounds more like “School districts have a variety of options for meeting the requirements that workers’ hours are documented and that everyone who works at least 30 hours per week receives a health insurance plan” to me. Limiting some workers to a maximum of 29 hours per week, which a number of unscrupulous businesses in food service and similar industries have tried to avoid offering health insurance at all, is an option for school districts as well. The vast majority of these employees are already eligible for health insurance under the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, so the situation is very different here. School districts will have to do some more paperwork to be in compliance with the ACA, but if anyone is equipped to deal with paperwork it’s school districts, and the net effect will be that more employees wind up with health insurance. I’m okay with that.