The Blind Squirrel

Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Should all businesses provide health insurance benefits to their employees? As a guy who makes his living selling group health policies to employers, you might think that I would answer with an emphatic “YES”. In theory, all businesses should provide benefits. In practice, not necessarily.

Sunday’s Plain Dealer included an article about the White Castle hamburger chain and the unintended/intended consequences of the recent health care legislation. According to the article, White Castle has been providing health insurance coverage to its full-time employees for a very long time. And, they are more than generous, paying 70% to 89% of the cost. By these measures, White Castle is a good corporate citizen.

But it is not enough. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act imposes a $3,000 per employee penalty on companies whose workers pay more than 9.5% of household income in premiums for company provided insurance. “White Castle estimates that this new rule could cost as much as 55% of its yearly net income."

Before we go any further, it is important to note that a recent study found that 78.9% of all statistics were created at the moment of their citation.

So I may not be certain about the actual pain White Castle may experience. Of course, when Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform, is quoted later in that same article that 97% of the nation’s companies won’t pay any penalties, I am equally skeptical.

Let’s talk real numbers. There are lots and lots of people earning $9 an hour. Is that right? Should they be paid more? I don’t know. You hire them and let me know. Today we’ll simply work with reality.

$9 an hour times 35 hours per week times 52 weeks per year equals $16,380. This person could only be charged $30 per week to participate in the company health plan. Anything more and the employer is charged $3,000 per employee. Restaurant worker, Retail employee. Clerk. There are a lot of people earning less than $20,000 per year. Their employers have a problem. Or a choice.

Will employers absorb even more of the rising health insurance premiums? Will employers make do with fewer workers? Or, will businesses cancel their private insurance and pay the lower $2,000 per employee penalty for not providing coverage?

The cheapest option, even less than providing high quality health insurance to its employees, may be to pay the $2,000 per employee penalty and to cancel the benefits. This just funnels more people into the government plan.

The article also quotes Steven Kreisberg of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME). Uniquely unqualified to address the concerns of any business, Mr. Kreisberg assures us that the young and healthy will simply opt out of their employers’ plans. The employers would then save premium dollars by paying $2,000 per employee per year for nothing. Forgetting that businesses hate to spend money for nothing, we still understand that taking the young and the healthy out of the employers’ groups will only make their premiums skyrocket.

The structure of these penalties only make sense if the ultimate goal is a government run health care system.

There were other experts and ax-grinders quoted in the Plain Dealer article. One was the number one Republican in the House of Representatives, John Boehner (Oh). Mr. Boehner is the George Hamilton of national politics. While Mr. Hamilton’s movies feature his tan and a lightweight plot, Mr. Boehner’s TV appearances tend to feature his tan and his lightweight logic. I have always thought that his job was to keep the seat warm till a real leader emerges. I am not a fan.

Imagine my surprise when I read this quote from Mr. Boehner. “The irony is that in the name of expanding health care coverage, the administration is making it harder than ever for unskilled workers to get started in the workforce.”

Sure the populism is feigned. But truth is truth. In a rush to achieve a goal with little thought to the consequences or collateral damage, this administration has begun to implement its health care takeover. And, as per Mr. Boehner, it is true. Even a blind squirrel can eventually find a nut.

DAVE

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