This is excerpted from an essay that won the first place prize for a research paper in the 100s Essay Contest.  A second excerpt will be posted later this week.

Health care is an essential service to which every American should have access. We may say, “I’m perfectly healthy, I don’t need health care!” but the truth is that we all need to plan for contingencies— illness, or accidents— that we cannot control. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 requires that all Americans be covered under health insurance plans, but leaves a significant group of part-time workers at a severe disadvantage. State and federal governments must work with employers to develop of a system of employer-employee coverage aid, incentivize employers to provide this aid, and develop insurance exchanges where newly insured part-time workers will be able to find affordable insurance to fit their needs. Such a system will provide part-time workers with the health coverage to which every person is entitled.

According to whitehouse.gov, “the average U.S. family and their employer pay $1000 a year extra in health insurance costs to cover care for the uninsured. By bringing the uninsured into the system and tackling the drivers of health care costs, the new health care law will make health insurance more affordable to businesses.”[i] That’s thousands of dollars Americans are already paying every day to care for other uninsured Americans. If everyone had care, there would be an equilibrium between those paying for care and those receiving it. Providing health care for part-time workers not covered under the law would truly bring all uninsured Americans into “the system,” so that, as all Americans gain some type of coverage, Americans already paying for health insurance will not have to pay higher costs to insurance companies to cover the costs incurred by uninsured Americans.

Part-time workers are neglected by both government restrictions on Medicaid eligibility and a lack of employer aid. Unless individuals and particularly part-time workers under 65 years of age have incomes less than 133% federal poverty level, they are not eligible for coverage under Medicaid and thus must find other means to gain access to health care.[ii] In addition, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, less than one-third (28%) of the 61% of firms that even provide heath care coverage to employees provide care for part-time workers.[iii]

Companies are not required by law to provide health insurance to all workers, and are penalized only for failing to cover full-time workers. As the Kaiser Family Foundation’s “Focus On Health Reform” report clearly states, “there is no penalty for part-time employees not offered coverage”.[iv] Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses with more than fifty “Full-time Equivalents” (FTEs) are fined $2,000 for each uninsured full-time employee (an employee working an average of 30 hours per week) for whom they do not offer health insurance.[v] As a result, companies can conveniently hire part-time workers without incurring the extra costs of providing health benefits.

In addition, almost half of small companies with 3-19 employees reported in the “Employer Health Benefits 2012 Annual Survey” that the “most important reason” that they didn’t offer health benefits to their employees was the high cost of providing care.[vi] Furthermore, a company is not likely to want to pay for health coverage for a part-time worker who, should he get sick or injured, can be quickly replaced by the next young worker willing to take low wages and fewer than 30 hours of weekly work.

The consequences of a lack of health insurance coverage may be seen in the number of women who have, increasingly over the past decade, had to sacrifice their health because they could not afford to pay for care, or had to allocate their income to (seemingly) more immediate needs. According to a 2010 Commonwealth Fund report, “In 2010, 48% of working-age women— an estimated 45 million people— reported that because of cost they did not fill a prescription; skipped a recommended test, treatment or follow-up; had a medical problem for which they did not visit the doctor; or did not see a specialist when needed— an increase from 34% in 2001”.[vii] If almost half of the nation’s working women cannot afford to maintain their health, that’s 45 million employees who put their health at risk and are not in the optimum condition to do their best work in the workplace.

If part-time workers were to gain access to the care they need, both employees and employers would benefit. Employees with access to health services like contraceptive care, hospitalization coverage, and preventive care are less likely quit their jobs as after experiencing such maladies as unwanted pregnancies, sudden illnesses, or injuries resulting from accidents. The question becomes, then, how can adequate care be provided and paid for?

VM-CVictoria Mairal Cruz just finished her first year at Xavier. Born in Cincinnati but also holding citizenship in Spain, Victoria graduated from Cincinnati Country Day and seems to be having a fabulous time on campus. She is a PPP major (as well as Spanish and Economics). Her first year has been full of good friends, dancing, fun with SOL and much more. We can’t wait to see what else she does during her time at Xavier!

[i] “Relief for You” par. 22.

[ii] “Eligibility” par. 1.

[iii] Claxton, “Employer Health Benefits 2012 Annual Survey” par. 2 and 10.

[iv] “Focus on Health Reform” 2, kff.org.

[v]  “Focus on Health Reform,” 2; “Full time equivalent (FTE),” Businessdictionary.com.

[vi] Claxton, “Employer Health Benefits 2012 Annual Survey” 2.

[vii] Collins and Robertson, “Realizing Health Reform’s Potential” 6.