Setting a new standard

I am actually writing this piece on election day, trying not to look at the news. I have hope that people with integrity, experience, and the best interests of us poor people will begin to pull ahead in our government, I can’t see it going the other way successfully for much longer. Whatever your political beliefs are, I know that there is one thing we can all agree on in this arena: healthcare. We all need it, and most of us don’t have it.

This post on healthcare started out with an idea that I had about award winning restaurants- the Michelin stars, the 50 best, etc. It seems to me that, in this day and age when the conversation about health and mental health in the industry is becoming more mainstream, that it should be a part of the awards criteria. I know that I get more fired up than most people about issues like this, but the fact that a restaurant in the US can be awarded a Michelin star when it does not provide healthcare to it’s employees makes my blood boil. I believe that there should be a standard for how the employees in an establishment are being treated before they are ever even considered for an award like this. And, honestly, I think that the majority of people dining at this level would agree. Would your $500 dollar meal be as satisfying if you knew that the people who prepared it were making $10 dollars per hour( or nothing!) and working 80 hour weeks and didn’t have healthcare? I don’t think so. I don’t think that these status symbol dining experiences would carry the same social weight if this were something we talked more openly about. I’m about to run to the top of a skyscraper and start screaming Michelin stars are the new fur coats! But then I pause.

When I did a poll of people who had worked in Michelin starred restaurants to see if they had healthcare, I got about 50 responses and the vast majority of them said no ( 42/49). What a large number of them brought to my attention was a question: In the US or not? Of course they would ask this. In other countries that have star ratings ( not all of them!) healthcare is a standard for citizens. We are very lonely out here in our position on healthcare- you get it if you can afford it. So, while I do believe that there is a responsibility in being a property worthy of a star to set an example by providing healthcare for employees, I will not deny the fact that the problem is so much bigger than that, and that this win would be a small one.

Two big questions come to mind at this point, the first being: why does our government not care about us having healthcare? Shouldn’t this be a priority? The health, well being, and safety of citizens is what the government is there to provide, so why does it not provide it? I had high hopes for the ACA, as I know many people did, and it was definitely a step in the right direction to pass legislation putting restrictions on what those insurance companies can and can’t do, and I know that people have insurance because of the ACA that did not previously, but I sure don’t. Why? Because it’s not insurance that does anything for me. Picture this: with my income and tax credit available, it would cost me $220 per month to get a plan that has co payments to go to the doctor or get prescriptions. Anything less than that and I have a plan with a $5000 + deductible, and I pay 100% of doctor visits, prescriptions, tests, or anything else until that deductible is met. That is not health insurance! That is catastrophic insurance. If I go to the doctor twice a year at $150 bucks a pop without insurance, I have just saved myself $2000. That makes sense to me. I go without. I know lots of people who do. Something that the ACA did was cause insurance companies to raise all of the prices because of the tax credits. Before the ACA, I was paying $150 per month for insurance that now costs $250 per month for me, plus my $323 tax credit per month that the government pays = $573 a month. If the price had remained $150, the government would have just paid for it and I would have healthcare. But because of the credits, they can now charge much, much more- because we are splitting the bill. Who is in charge here?

There is another question that I can’t help but ask when thinking about the alternative, which is a single payer system. *Single payer cheat sheet: Everyone pays a fee for healthcare taken out as a payroll tax, like L&I, and then we all have medicare insurance, which is the government plan. This would allow the government to set prices for medical services and give us all the healthcare that we need when we need it. It works- look it up.* The question is: Why aren’t businesses lobbying for this?! Picture this: say your employee healthcare plan costs $400 per month per employee. The employee pays $150, and you pay $250. Times $100 employees, that’s $25,000. PER MONTH. What if you are a very large corporation with thousands of employees?! If the government took over your healthcare costs, it would save you hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. That money would become higher salaries, company growth and investment, and direct growth of the economy. Political bickering aside, why isn’t getting a single payer system in place top priority for Walmart, Wall Street, Amazon, everyone? I can’t figure it out.

What is the conclusion here? It’s that there are no easy answers. I would very much like to start a conversation about getting a standard for basic human rights in these restaurants that everyone looks up to. You have that to look forward to. If you have any ideas about how we move forward from here, I would love to hear them. Thanks for being here.

Laura Mcwilliams