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How will the Affordable Care Act impact university employees?

According to the rules of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is due at this writing to kick in fully next year, an employee must work fewer than 30 hours a week to avoid triggering the cost of mandated benefits paid by employers. In a letter to Democratic leaders, three major labor unions wrote: "The impact of this is two-fold: fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits."

How is this "Obamacare" plan going to affect TypeWell transcribers? Not well, according to Valerie Sturm, transcriber, interpreter, and Coordinator of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services at an Idaho university.

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The current word is that the law will be repealed or watered down," she said. "But our institution is proceeding as if it will take affect as planned. 

"I have a team of around 15 service providers here, most of whom are student employees, covering 405 hours of classes and media per week. If you do the math, it's the equivalent of nine full-time and five or six part-time employees. The university wants me to cut everyone's hours so that we have no full-time service providers, to avoid paying benefits and facing other stipulations of Obamacare."

It's not just universities; employers of all types realize that the fewer full-time employees they have, the more money they might save under Obamacare.

"We will have to classify everyone as temporary, hourly, and on-call," said Val. "We won't have enough people to cover all the hours requested by students. The university thinks it will save money by not providing the mandated benefits, but we can only go two ways: We can hire remote service providers, or we can turn everyone here into independent contractors. Both options will actually cost more."

Val is concerned about her ability to serve the deaf and hard of hearing community at her place of employment in the future.

"I have a daughter with chronic health issues. She has had a hard time getting treatment, and she can't find insurance. I understand the idea behind the affordable health care law, and I can also understand employers' concerns about rising insurance and benefits costs."

"But here's the thing I get frustrated with," says Val. "There are no other positions at the university that are mandated by federal law. The university doesn't have to have middle management. They don't have to have a president or cafeteria staff or vehicle fleet people. All those positions exist to support students, just like we do. The school has to have interpreters and transcribers by federal law, and if the services that are needed aren't provided, there are repercussions for everybody."

Val is referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which applies to both state-operated and private universities and colleges. Val wishes that law had bigger teeth.

"It's not that I would want institutions to lose a lawsuit or get hit by a Department of Justice complaint, but it's something that would have an impact and force administrators realize that [communication access] is an essential service," Val said.

"Without interpreters and transcribers, there are limited communication options for deaf and hard of hearing students. It's a huge problem. My university wants me to hire a whole boatload of people to train, to cover the hours Obamacare will force me to cut from my existing providers. But out of 100 applicants for these jobs, I'll get four or five that pass the Typewell screening. Out of those four or five, I'll get one or two who go ahead, take the training, and start working. If I am only able to maintain one percent of the people I recruit, that's a hard number to overcome."

For the basic features of the Affordable Care Act, visit this site hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Editor's note: The opinions expressed by the Byword bloggers, interviewees, and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TypeWell, Catalina Solutions LLC, or any employee thereof. TypeWell is not responsible for the accuracy of blog content or comments.  

Photo credit: jfcherry via photopin cc

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Ken Deutsch

Ken's father once accidentally knocked out Ken's front teeth in an "airplane game" that unfortunately took place on a hard driveway.

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