Under the Affordable Care Act, by January 2015, the Muscogee County School District might have to offer health insurance to possibly hundreds of more employees.
That was the warning district officials gave the school board Tuesday night during its work session.
The impact on the budget is uncertain, because many questions about the controversial federal law aren't answered yet, so the district's administration is assembling a task force to explore its options and report to Superintendent David Lewis, who would update the board by February.
The district already has seen its health care costs rise by about 14 percent from fiscal year 2010 to 2013, to $29.9 million from $26.2 million. The district had 5,737 employees, according to its 2012 annual report, including 955 working part time.
The ACA requires employers to offer "minimal essential coverage" for health insurance to at least 95 percent of their full-time employees, defined as working 30 or more hours per week. For Muscogee County, that means some employees now considered part time would have to be offered coverage because they passed the 30-hour threshold.
The part-time employees with the biggest potential impact on the district's compliance with the ACA are substitute teachers. In fiscal year 2013, the district had 640 substitute teachers. They aren't eligible for the state health insurance plan in Georgia if they aren't certified teachers, so the district would have to offer them insurance if they passed the 30-hour threshold.
It's unclear for what period of time that threshold would be defined, said Kathy Tessin, the district's chief human resources officer. Regardless, she outlined four options the district could choose to lessen the financial impact of the Affordable Care Act:
Limit the number of hours substitute teachers can work each week.
Hire substitutes full time for long-term assignments, defined as a stretch of at least 21 days.
Create a health care plan for long-term substitute teachers that meets ACA requirements.
Contract out the substitute teaching to another employer.
Another response to the ACA could be to simply pay the federal penalty for not complying with the law. That would cost the district an estimated $9.4 million, which Tessin called "just not an option."
The district more easily can limit the hours for other part-time employees, Tessin said, such as library assistants, school security, clinic workers, crossing guards and substitute bus drivers.
In this budget year, fiscal year 2014, it costs the district $11,340 per certificated employee and $7,154 per non-certificated employee to participate in the state health insurance plan.