Healthier, less stressed employees are happier, faster, and more reliable. It's important for restaurant owners to understand the health care roadblocks their workers often face.

Traditionally, many restaurant owners haven’t offered health insurance to their employees. With high turnover rates and a large number of part-time workers, offering an employer-sponsored health plan has been viewed as a bigger hassle than it’s worth.

Today, however, the Affordable Care Act requires companies with 100 full-time workers to offer health insurance to all employees who work at least 30 hours per week. In 2016, businesses with 50 or more employees will be subject to these regulations.

This major shift is helping restaurant owners recognize the importance of helping employees get quality care. After all, healthier, less stressed employees are happier, faster, and more reliable workers. But to truly help employees find affordable coverage that meets their needs, restaurant owners first must understand the struggles their workers commonly face—with or without health insurance.

The Health Care Struggles of Restaurant Employees

There are a number of health care-related struggles that many restaurant workers endure, often unbeknownst to their employers, such as:

Restaurant workers, in particular, are more likely to develop certain chronic conditions because of their work environments. For example, food service workers are 50 percent more likely than the general public to die of lung cancer due to secondhand smoke exposure. And because many restaurant workers have little choice except to eat restaurant food during their meal breaks, they are more susceptible to the chronic diseases incited by the regular consumption of this food, such as obesity and high blood pressure. As a business owner, you should be concerned about how chronic conditions can inflate your health care costs.

  • Finding affordable health coverage. Because so many restaurant employees have not had employer-sponsored health care in the past, they’ve either gone uninsured or had to pay out-of-pocket for expensive private coverage. For those combating a chronic condition or raising a family, neither of these options is desirable.

And although the Affordable Care Act has increased access to care, many employer-sponsored plans still come with high employee costs and sparse coverage. The employee’s share of the premium expense alone eliminates employer-sponsored plans as a viable option for many low-wage workers.

  • Managing unexpected expenses. Minimum Essential Coverage and Minimum Value health plans—the most affordable private health insurance options sanctioned by the ACA—can leave workers with huge costs and little coverage, especially for those with chronic conditions. These high-deductible plans require workers to pay substantial out-of-pocket costs before coverage even kicks in. And for a minimum-wage worker, the out-of-pocket limit of $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families can be downright unaffordable.

In addition, MEC plans can lack—or carry minimal—pharmacy benefits. Paying retail price for medication to treat or manage a chronic condition can take a big chunk of a low-wage worker’s monthly income—and if the plan doesn’t cover pharmaceuticals, those costs don’t even count toward the out-of-pocket limit. That’s before taking into account additional expenses incurred from seeing specialists or having tests done to monitor chronic conditions.

Help Employees Get Affordable Coverage

With restaurant workers’ health care challenges in mind, taking action to improve their health and limit their health care costs should be a top priority. Healthy workers have fewer absences, lower turnover rates, higher productivity, and increased job satisfaction. This, in turn, translates to a more positive work environment, happier patrons, and higher profits for your restaurant.

While there’s no silver bullet to solve employees’ health care woes, there is a plan they might qualify for with few out-of-pocket costs, high-quality coverage, and no additional cost to you. That plan is Medicaid, and—contrary to rumors of its inadequacies—Medicaid’s enrollees tend to be more satisfied with their insurance coverage than those with employer-sponsored coverage.

Medicaid coverage comes with no premiums in most states, no deductibles, very low copays, full pharmacy coverage, affordable visits with primary care doctors and specialists, and access to a host of additional services. And because Medicaid offers coverage for the whole family without huge rate spikes for dependents, it’s a far more cost-effective option than most private plans.

While not all employees will qualify, many workers in the restaurant industry are candidates for Medicaid coverage. Your first step should be helping them compare the premiums, copays, deductibles, benefits, and access to care of employer-sponsored coverage (if you offer it), third-party private coverage, and Medicaid (if they qualify). For those with chronic health conditions, comparing out-of-pocket costs for each option can be especially important to avoid crippling health care expenses down the road.

Medicaid Is a Win-Win

Medicaid enrollment for employees is often a win-win. It provides more affordable and comprehensive coverage for your employees than you could afford to offer, and it has the potential to reduce your health insurance costs. Without Medicaid, unhealthy employees are the most likely to pay for costly private health insurance because they calculate that the upfront costs of insurance will ultimately save them money.

Because the Medicaid qualification and application process can be confusing and time-consuming, you might also have to make special arrangements to help your eligible workers get enrolled. This could mean giving them time off to apply or allowing them use of an Internet-connected computer. Just remember that doing what you can to help employees find coverage is well worth it—for your restaurant’s balance sheet and for your employees’ well-being.

Running a successful restaurant is like running a well-oiled machine. But if any of its constituent parts aren’t in good working order, it can quickly fall apart. If your employees—especially those with chronic health conditions—can’t access the care they need, your business is at risk of breaking down. Build a cohesive team and maximize your profits by ensuring your employees understand their health insurance options.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.


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