Legislation seeks to identify full time as 40 hours a week

VIENNA – Forty hours has long been the standard definition of a full work week, and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin sees no reason for health care reform to change that.

Manchin, D-W.Va., stopped at the Vienna Burger King Wednesday on the third day of a week-long tour of the Mountain State to discuss issues with local business owners, including legislation that would restore the definition of a full-time employee to one who averages 40 hours a week instead of 30.

“Forty hours has always been a standard work week,” Manchin said. “I think the best political argument is it just makes sense.”

The Affordable Care Act, the sweeping health care reform legislation signed into law in 2011, defined employees who average 30 hours a week as full time. If a company has 50 or more full-time employees, the employer is required to offer them health insurance.

That can carry a hefty price tag for some businesses, said Matt Herridge, with Charton Management Inc., which owns eight Burger Kings in the Mid-Ohio Valley and the new Qdoba restaurant in Marietta. He said it would cost more than $6,000 per employee who elects to take the coverage.

“If we start providing that to every single worker here, we would be out of business within a month,” Herridge said. “Most businesses like us have cut folks back to under 30 hours. What we will have to consider later this year is whether we will follow suit or not.”

Manchin said the goal of the 30-hour threshold was to get more people covered by health insurance to help offset the costs of the expansion under the program that has come to be known as Obamacare. But raising the eligibility level for Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level should accomplish that goal, he said.

“So why would you do both and make it harder on the business?” Manchin said.

Manchin is one of two Democrats co-sponsoring the bill with 11 Republicans, including Ohio’s Sen. Rob Portman.

In Vienna Wednesday for a separate event at Ohio Valley University, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she agrees with the idea.

“When did 30 hours become a full-time job?” she said. “Nobody can make a living on 30 hours a week.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has not signed on to the legislation Manchin referred to but remains open to considering changes as long as they achieve the goal of expanding access to health care for West Virginians, he said.

“My top priority is making sure that more Americans get affordable health insurance – particularly those without coverage and who are struggling,” Rockefeller said in a statement released Wednesday. ”And that will be my test for any proposed changes to the law.”

About a dozen business leaders and elected officials were present for the event in Vienna, along with a number of customers who did not realize Manchin would be there.

Eight-year-old Parkersburg resident Ethan Marshall was initially more impressed with the West Virginia State Police troopers providing security for the senator, since he wants to be a police officer when he grows up. But his family told him who Manchin was and he wound up getting his picture taken with the former governor.

“I was kind of nervous,” Marshall said.

(Staff writer Michael Erb contributed to this story.)