WASHINGTON - Just recently, the Internal Revenue Service issued an 18-page, single-spaced notice explaining how to distinguish between full-time and part-time workers under the Affordable Care Act - "Obamacare".
The difference matters, because the act requires employers with 50 or more full-time workers to provide health insurance for those workers. At the same time, no company has to buy insurance for part-time employees, defined as those working less than 30 hours a week.
Here's a sample:
This notice expands the safe harbor method described in a previous notice to provide employers the option to use a look-back measurement period of up to 12 months to determine whether new variable hour employees or seasonal employees are full-time employees, without being subject to a payment under section 4980H for this period with respect to those employees.
Obamacare has faded as a campaign issue, perhaps because it doesn't suit either the president or Mitt Romney.
It's not popular, a minus for Barack Obama. Its resemblance to Romney's Massachusetts program makes it a minus for him.
But Obamacare's relentless march to full-fledged introduction in 2014 demonstrates that, for all its good intentions, it will make the health care system more confusing (see above), costly and contentious.
It won't control health spending - the system's main problem - and will weaken job creation.
Consider the treatment of full-time and part-time workers as an object lesson.
Exempting part-time workers is a concession to practicality. If companies had to provide insurance for all part-time and seasonal workers - often unskilled and poorly paid - the high costs (a worker-only insurance policy can run more than $5,000) would eliminate many jobs or inspire mass evasion.
On the other hand, exempting too many "part-time" and "seasonal" workers would make achieving near-universal insurance coverage much harder.
So there's a balancing act: preserving jobs versus providing insurance.
The problem isn't small.
In September, 34 million workers, about a quarter of total workers, were part-time, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the bureau defines part-time as less than 35 hours a week; Obamacare's 30 hours a week was presumably adopted to expand insurance coverage.
There are now 10 million workers averaging between 30 and 34 hours a week. To the BLS, they are part-time; under Obamacare, they're full-time.
Employers have a huge incentive to hold workers under the 30-hour weekly threshold.
The requirement to provide insurance above that acts as a steep employment tax. Companies will try to minimize the tax.
The most vulnerable workers are the poorest and least skilled who can be most easily replaced and for whom insurance costs loom largest. Indeed, the adjustment has already started.