Posts about Health Care
What if it cost you two cents on the dollar at the discount store to ensure that your neighbor, who works long hours at the store, has adequate health coverage through his employer? What if paying those two cents reduced the number of people relying on Medicaid for health care, and thereby reduced your taxes?
These are among questions the DC Council needs to address before large retailers like Walmart open new stores in the District.
As we debate the need to trim local and national spending, we need to ensure that no one gets off with a free ride, and that includes prosperous corporations that get backdoor subsidies by not providing competitive benefits for their employees. A 2005 study found that the rate of uninsurance and public coverage for the children of Walmart workers was significantly higher than the average for other large retail workers.
This study found that by increasing costs by two pennies on the dollar, Walmart could match the wages and benefits of other big retailers. This would cost $3.66 billion annually. In 2005, Walmart spent $1.5 billion annually on health benefits.
If Walmart were to provide a competitive wage and benefits package, it could mean real savings for the District. A Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services study found, in 2007, that it cost the state $3.7 million annually to provide care to Walmart employees and dependents. Such costs could be significant in the District, where the Mayor has proposed $12 million in cuts this year to health care programs for low-income residents.
While Walmart changed its plan to include a $1,000 contribution from the company to a health reimbursement account, it still has an unusually high out-of-pocket limit. In 2011, Walmart continued to have more employees relying on public care in Wisconsin than any other employer in the state.
The DC Council could require a community impact analysis, like those required in the city of Los Angeles, to determine if Walmart's new benefits plan significantly reduces the burden on taxpayers. Or, the Council could follow New York City's example (see page 196) and mandate that big retailers pay a minimum amount to ensure that their employees have affordable health care.
The Council has a responsibility to protect taxpayers from secret subsidies to huge corporations. And it has the power to do something about it by requiring large retailers to provide adequate wages and health coverage so that it does not force a disproportionate number of employees to rely on public benefits.
Dining out in the DC area is an occasional practice for many and an everyday indulgence for some. The restaurant industry is an ever-changing and fast growing industry not only across the nation, but here in DC. Unfortunately it is also an industry plagued with many bad jobs and only a few good ones.
There are almost 2,000 eating and drinking establishments in Washington DC alone and over 10,000 in Maryland and over 13,000 in Virginia.
Restaurants and other eating/drinking establishments are also a driving force for the local economy. It is estimated that in 2010, the industry will generate at least 2.4 billion in sales in DC, $8.7 billion in sales in Maryland, and over $11 billion in Virginia. The industry employees over 36,000 people in DC, 226,900 in Maryland and almost 331,000 people in Virginia.
However, the restaurant industry is plagued by low wages, poor working conditions, and inadequate benefits. The average annual salary for restaurant employees in 2009 was $22,982 in DC, $20,522 in Arlington County, and $18,949 in Montgomery County. These salaries are just below the poverty line for a family of four.
A major issue confronting restaurant workers revolves around benefits, especially those relating to employee health. Unlike many workers in the United States, restaurant workers often do not receive paid sick leave.
Because restaurant wages are often so low, the decision for a worker that she is too sick to work on a particular day could mean being unable to pay bills or care for her family. Restaurant workers who lack paid sick leave contribute to public health problem since they sometimes come to work sick.
In 2008 Washington, D.C. passed the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act, which requires employers to provide paid sick leave for workers. However, in the give-and-take negotiations to secure that law, restaurant owners won major concessions, including provisions that exempt tipped waitstaff and bartenders from coverage under the law.
Even for restaurant workers who do fall under the bill's provisions, many remain unaware of the new regulations. The DC government has taken the first steps of creating necessary regulations and adding the violation of paid sick leave provisions to forms workers can use to register official complaints against their employers, but education for workers about their new rights, which is critically important, has been slow.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) is working to establish baseline standards for restaurant-industry workers, reward restaurants and their owners when they pay and treat their workers well, and call out those who violate workers' legal rights.
As restaurant goers, there are a couple simple things we can do to help support restaurant workers. First, leave your tip in cash. Since credit card tips must be processed, it can take longer for waiters to actually receive their wages, while some never receive their credit card tips at all. Restaurant employees and advocates are working to change tip processing, but for the time being the best way to ensure that your tips reach workers is to leave cash.
Second, dine out ethically. Support workers by eating at restaurants with fair labor practices. On Saturday, November 13th, ROC is encouraging consumers to dine at, or "Carrotmob," Teaism because of their support of workers rights. Teaism currently provides 5-7 sick days to all of their workers.
The restaurant industry provides and will continue to provide an important contribution to the region's economy. The industry is projected to grow by 12 percent in DC, and around 8 percent in both Maryland and Virginia by 2020.
The DC area restaurant industry can either take the high road by providing fair wages, access to health benefits, and advancement in the industry. Or, take the low road by continuing to create low-wage jobs with few benefits and poor working conditions.
As consumers we can encourage the industry and policy makers to support workers, thus not only benefiting restaurant employees but also the overall quality of the food we eat.
New figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau reveal some good news about health insurance coverage in the District of Columbia. The share of residents without insurance stood at 9.8 percent in 2007-2008, a significant decline from 12.9 percent in 2000-2001. When compared with states, DC is in the top fifth in its insurance coverage rate. (Massachusetts has the lowest uninsured rate, at 5.4 percent.)
The reduction in uninsured DC residents reflects greater access to government health insurance programs. Some 22 percent of DC residents had public health coverage in 2007-2008, up from 17 percent in 2000-2001. (The share of residents with employer-provided health insurance was basically the same in the two periods.) The increase in public health insurance receipt in DC likely reflects the creation of the DC HealthCare Alliance in 2001, which provides coverage to uninsured residents below 200 percent of poverty who are not eligible for other public programs. Roughly 40,000 DC residents will be served by the Alliance in 2010. The Alliance complements the District's Medicaid program, which primarily serves low-income families with children and residents who are either elderly or disabled.
In addition, the District expanded health insurance for low-income families with children in its Medicaid program over the past decade. Medicaid eligibility for children was raised from 200 percent of poverty to 300 percent of poverty.
The new Census figures for DC point to an important policy success as the nation considers health care reform, showing that expanding access to health insurance coverage greatly reduces the share of residents who have no coverage.
These data reflect conditions in 2008. Since then, the decline in the national economy likely has left more residents without employer-provided health insurance. Even though some of the unemployed will qualify for Medicaid or the HealthCare Alliance, the share of residents without health insurance may be higher today. At the same time, the District is preparing to implement a new low-cost health insurance option for moderate-income families, called Healthy DC, which will increase access to health care.
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