Newly empowered Republicans say they can’t repeal Obamacare and plan to chip away at the law piece by piece, starting with redefining full-time work in a way that could affect health coverage for 1 million people.

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday said they want to rewrite the Affordable Care Act so employers could avoid providing health coverage to workers who put in less than 40 hours a week -- up from the law’s current 30-hour threshold.

The move is backed by business groups such as the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association. The measure, which would face a presidential veto, would make it easier for employers to shift more workers to part-time status and avoid buying insurance or paying fines under a provision of the law taking effect at the end of the year.

The likely result: A million people would lose employer-paid health care and have to look for subsidized coverage on government insurance exchanges or go on Medicaid, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That’s just the opening round.

McConnell said after his party won control of the Senate in the Nov. 4 midterm election that Republicans wouldn’t able to repeal the health-care law as long as Barack Obama is president and would instead seek to limit its scope.

‘Piecemeal Attempts’

“Their strategy of choice will be piecemeal attempts to repeal parts of the statute, and it’s clear that the 40-hour rule may very well be part of that litany,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a Washington-based advocacy group that supports the health-care law.

The maneuver taps into public anxiety that the law would create incentives for employers to reduce workers’ hours to avoid paying fines or purchasing insurance. The Republican leaders borrowed language from the labor movement, characterizing the proposal as an effort “to restore the traditional 40-hour definition of full-time employment” in an op-ed article published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal.

McConnell, of Kentucky, and Boehner, of Ohio, are returning to a proposal that the Republican-led House passed in April, with the support of 18 Democrats. The White House threatened a veto and the Democratic-controlled Senate never took up the legislation.