Contending that Pulaski County cannot afford to offer health insurance to 30 part time employees, Comptroller Mike Hutchens told the Quorum Court on Tuesday night that the county will have to cut their hours to be in compliance with the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
If an employee works more than 29 hours per week for a period of more than 90 days, the county must offer that employee health insurance or face a penalty under a part of the new health-care law set to go into effect next year. Hutchens said the county can’t afford to offer insurance to the part-time employees. Although he was unsure what the penalty would be for not complying, Hutchens said he was “100 percent” certain the county could not afford it.
The Quorum Court will vote on the measure to reduce the affected employees’ hours at its full meeting Sept. 24.
“But I understand that everyone needs health insurance,” Quorum Court member Wilma Walker told Hutchens.
Walker said she was worried about employees not having access to insurance and wanted to know whether the county could work something out to provide it.
“I don’t know what I would do without health insurance,” she added.
Hutchens reiterated that the affected employees do not currently receive health insurance.
“We’re not taking anyone’s insurance away,” said Quorum Court member Bob Johnson.
Hutchens said the employees’ loss of hours would be “unsubstantial.”
“They may lose one hour, they may lose three hours,” he said.
Part-time employees would be eligible for the health-insurance exchange next year, Quorum Court member Julie Blackwood said.
Hutchens said that the Quorum Court should not assume the affected employees lack health insurance. He said after the meeting that some of the workers are retirees and high school students who do not seek insurance.
Most of the county’s temporary employees - hired during the tax and election seasons - do not work for more than 90 days and would not be affected by the measure, Hutchens said.
Quorum Court member Shane Stacks asked Hutchens whether the county had any other approaches to comply with the new health-care law.
“For federal law, this is all we can do,” Hutchens said.
In other business at the Tuesday agenda meeting, the Quorum Court selected Johnson as chairman of its budget committee, which comprises the entire court, and member Kathy Lewison as vice chairman.
No meetings have been set for the committee, but it will likely meet several times during the forthcoming weeks, Johnson said after the meeting.
The Quorum Court also agreed to vote at its full meeting on moving $15,000 for the county District Court Automation Fund into the District Court budget to pay staff members overtime while they work to convert data to the new data software.