Monday, June 03, 2013

A Little Good News

(Cartoon published by the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star 8/28/09.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

Every once in a while I come across a news article which makes me smile because it shows that there are still some possibilities for the rest of us.  This one from the Los Angeles Times is one of those articles.

Legislators, backed by unions, consumer groups and doctors, are calling for fines that could reach about $6,000 per full-time employee who ends up on Medi-Cal, the state Medicaid program for the poor and others. They say this would eliminate a loophole in the Affordable Care Act that encourages large retailers and restaurant chains to dump hourly workers onto the government dole because there's currently no penalty for doing so.

The outcome of this California battle could have national implications as other cash-strapped states search for ways to shore up safety-net programs that are bound to be stretched by a massive healthcare expansion.

"There are concerns that employers will be gaming this new system and taking less and less responsibility for their workers," said Sonya Schwartz, program director at the National Academy for State Health Policy. "This may make employers think twice." ...

Beyond Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the proposed penalties could touch nearly 1,800 companies in California that employ more than 500 workers each, ranging from farms to major restaurant chains. Those firms would face fines based on 110% of the average cost of health insurance for every employee who is enrolled in Medi-Cal and works more than eight hours a week.

The average annual premium for employee-only coverage was $5,615 in the U.S. last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The fines would be adjusted based on how many hours an employee works.

The bill calls for the employer fines to be used by Medi-Cal to boost payments for doctors and hospitals treating the poorest patients. That helped win the backing of the California Medical Assn., which says taking on these patients is difficult because the state has one of the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rates in the nation.   [Emphasis added]

I can hear the screams now:  "You'll drive businesses out of California!"

Oh, yeah?  Well, there's at least one large employer who doesn't think so and which has been providing such benefits all along because it found it to be a good business practice:

Not all retailers put such a burden on taxpayers. Costco Wholesale Corp., which competes against Wal-Mart's Sam's Club stores, said it provides health insurance to 88% of its workers and guarantees all employees enough hours to qualify for benefits if they want them.

"We think we get better employees who want to stick around," said Richard Galanti, Costco's chief financial officer. "At the end of the day, somebody has to pay for their healthcare."   [Emphasis added]

It isn't a done deal, of course.  The Democratic legislature and governor still have to pass it, and I suspect Wal-Mart is busy shoveling money around, as is the Chamber of Commerce.  But at least it's a start.

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