The Affordable Care Adjunct, Coming Soon?
By Kime Lawson, Assistant Editor
Over many decades, adjunct faculty at Temple University have been denied full-time employment status and as a result have not had access to many of the benefits earned by full-time faculty, such as affordable health care and collective bargaining rights. Could the passage of the Affordable Care Act significantly change the benefits status of contingent faculty at Temple? On March 23, 2010 President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly called "Obamacare" or ACA) into law. Most of its provisions, including the individual mandate, were ruled to be constitutional by the Supreme Court decision National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebilius on June 28, 2012. An upcoming provision of the bill, effective January 1, 2014, is that an annual penalty of $95 or 1% of income over the filing minimum will be assessed to families without adequate health insurance coverage unless the least expensive policy exceeds 8% of their income. This penalty, also known as the "shared responsibility payment," will increase more than seven-fold to $695 or will take 2.5% of income above the annual minimum from uncovered families starting January 1, 2016.¹
Institutions that employ more than fifty people, such as Temple University, are required by the new law to offer the opportunity for at least 95% of its full-time work force to enroll in a health plan with essential coverage or face an institutional fine of $2000 per uninsured worker as well, effective July 1, 2014. While the ACA will not change the general benefits structure of full-time faculty without a renegotiation of contracts, administration or employees who already work more than 30 hours a week at Temple University and earn basic health insurance coverage, less is known about how the new policy's implementation might change the benefits of contingent faculty.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported that on January 2, 2013 the Internal Revenue Service published proposed rules in the Federal Register for employers implementing the Affordable Care Act. In a document called "Shared Responsibility for Employers Regarding Health Coverage," the IRS made recommendations to employers about a number of careers that could possibly fall through the loopholes of the ACA. Most airline pilots, for instance, cannot meet the 30 hour work week requirement legally because they are limited by federal regulation to flying only 100 hours a month. With regard to the often irregular hours worked by adjunct faculty, the IRS has specifically advised that colleges and universities must "use a reasonable method for crediting hours of service" that accounts for the time adjuncts spend working and preparing outside of scheduled course meeting times. The IRS has also been taking recommendations on the matter from higher education institutions and teachers unions. The most popular proposal seems to be assigning three hours of work to each credit hour a taught course is worth. Another idea has been to compare the number of course hours taught by an adjunct with those of faculty peers who are considered full-time employees. Higher education employers must also determine a "standard measurement period" that will define whether or not an adjunct is an ongoing hire, along with a six-month "stability period" to be observed if the adjunct is considered an ongoing hire after the standard measurement period. The standard measurement period could be set anywhere between three and twelve months and may also include an interim "administrative period."
When asked how the ACA might change health care options for Temple adjuncts, Assistant Vice President of Human Resource - Benefits Jennifer Silvestri stated that "The University is currently in the process of examining and reviewing how this complex legislation will affect the University population, including adjuncts. We are following the emerging guidance and are in discussion with the Office of the Provost, University Counsel and representatives from the schools and colleges on how we might best implement the provisions. We will be communicating more on this topic with the schools and colleges in the months to come." Most of the decisions about the future status of contingent faculty, it seems, have yet to be made and could be deliberated for up to a year. The recommendation of counting each credit hour taught as three hours of employment would not help current Temple adjuncts who are already limited to teaching two courses per semester. At three hours per credit hour plus instruction time, a typical adjunct at Temple would still only be classified as working for a total of 24 hours a week... six hours short of the IRS recommendation. Comparing an adjunct’s work load with full-time faculty is not exactly helpful either since publishing, committee work and service are also integral to the definition of full-time faculty work and are not typically the responsibility of adjunct faculty.
Temple administration's other option, which lines up closely with recent labor policy for adjuncts at the university, would be to continue to limit the definition of adjunct work load hours below the 30 hour-a-week requirement for full-time employment. Currently, Temple adjuncts are limited to teaching only two courses per semester and are classified as part-time 20 hour-a-week workers... fostering a marginal employment status that does not provide an affordable health care plan, the ability to collectively bargain, or the right to participate in faculty governance. Companies that have restricted work hours in other industries, such as food service, have been publicly criticized by consumer groups and by the media and lost profits. Would incoming freshmen want to attend a university if they were aware that nearly a third of their teachers were treated no better than part-time minimum wage earners? Granted, paying the "shared responsibility payment" will be more affordable for adjuncts than the current Personal Choice PPO plan options, but all faculty should express concern to the administration about the particulars of ACA's implementation since it will fundamentally touch the health, well-being and the structure of work for everyone in the university community. •
¹ Under the current insurance benefits package a "regular" Temple adjunct, defined as one who has taught one or two courses for four consecutive semesters, may apply for a 25% or 50% subsidy to Temple's current Personal Choice PPO plan and is eligible for a number of voluntary benefits. As of July 2011, the monthly premium for an adjunct's unsubsidized Personal Choice PPO insurance plan costs $443.08 with a $1500 out-of network deductible for an individual and $1188.38 with a $4500 out-of-network deductible for a family. A "regular" Temple adjunct with a 50% subsidy might still expect to pay $221.54 a month for themselves, or $966.84 for a family, while only taking home roughly $1200 a month.