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Part-time Workers and the Health Care Law

Even when employer health coverage is available, insurance through the Affordable Care Act's marketplace is often cheaper and more comprehensive

Part-time workers directed to insurance marketplace for health care (age fotostock/Alamy)

Health plans from the health insurance marketplace benefit part-time workers who do not have employer-sponsored insurance and even some who do. — age fotostock/Alamy

Several big companies recently made headlines by announcing their plans to drop health benefits for part-time employees and direct them instead to the new insurance marketplaces that opened for business on Oct. 1.

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Beginning next year, specialty grocery retailer Trader Joe's will no longer offer health coverage to employees who work fewer than 30 hours per week. Instead, it will give them a stipend of $500 — or more in "hardship" cases — to help pay for a year's coverage through one of the marketplaces.

Wegmans, a supermarket chain that currently offers health benefits to employees who work at least 20 hours a week, plans to send those who work fewer than 30 hours a week to the marketplace in 2015.

Retailing giant Home Depot and theme-park operator SeaWorld Entertainment announced that part-timers currently covered by their company-sponsored "mini-meds" — plans with extremely limited benefits — will be on their own next year, since such plans will no longer pass muster under the Affordable Care Act.

Many of these workers may be better off, says Gerry Smolka, an AARP senior policy adviser. That's because government-subsidized plans may offer lower out-of-pocket costs — and better benefits — than the coverage they're losing.

The ACA provides part-time employees with, as Trader Joe's CEO Dan Bane said in an internal memo, "a deal that can't be matched by us — or any company."

Smolka points out, however, that some part-timers — especially those who have other jobs or high-earning spouses — might end up paying more in the new marketplace.

Bill Hogan is a writer and editor at AARP Media.

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