Huffington Post reports* that hospitals are now part of the wage theft game. Many would assume that these are for-profit hospitals who only care about the bottom line. Instead, the culprits are not-for-profit hospitals, the kind that like to use words like care in their marketing. They’ve given a new twist to wage theft. Rather than cheat their own workers (which they may or may not do), they are garnishing the wages of low income workers who have no health insurance or insurance that does not cover all of the bills. Wage garnishment laws vary from state to state. Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, and Alabama are most lenient in enabling wages to be garnished.
Some might argue that this isn’t wage theft because the charges are legitimate. Not so fast. Not-for-profit hospitals agree to serve the poor as part of their corporate charter, which provide tax-exempt status. Instead, too many of these “caring” institutions charge higher fees to those without insurance and sue to take a large part of their wages. Again, no one is saying that patients shouldn’t pay all or part of what is owed. The problem is that large hospitals that are supposed to serve the poor seem to be going out of their way to punish that’s wrong. That’s wrong.
Huffington Post Business offers an interesting article on employee happiness. According to a survey by the website Glassdoor, employees at Costco are happier than higher paid professionals at big name firms. What’s the secret to Costco’s success in making its employees smile? Employees appreciate the company’s healthcare plan. Costco’s CEO is an advocate for raising the minimum wage, and his company pays a minimum of $11.50 an hour. It pays to treat employees well. That’s Costco’s secret. Many employers could learn from its example.
Steve Early has a great article in the Nation that examines corporate wellness programs. The programs sound good on the surface since they promote, as Early puts it, “a social good.” The deeper problem is about employer’s motives and the real impact of the program. Employees who don’t comply with the program will face higher payments for healthcare if they fail to meet standards set by the employer. Is the real purpose of such programs better health for working people or a shift of health care costs from employer to employee? Given how the wage game has been going for the past few decades, it’s not too cynical to say that employers’ first concern isn’t the employees’ health. It’s a stealth and selective salary cut, another way to push money up and pain down.
I ran into my insurance broker the other day at the supermarket. She told me her business was booming. I guessed half the reason: the cost of health insurance is going up. The other cause shocked me: companies are dropping insurance for their employees. At first, I thought she meant that the employees were being asked to pay more, which has been common over the past few years. No, they were dropping insurance all together.
According the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, the number of Americans receiving health care from employers fell from 64.2% in 1999 to 59.3% 2007. It is estimated that 2.4 million people have lost health insurance over the last 15 months (click here to read the article). Remember the “man-cession”? It has an impact in this area too. More men have lost insurance than women. We need to think about the long term consequences of this trend.
Beyond the very important matters of health and well being, this trend is another type of pay cut since the employee will now be responsible for her own insurance. In many cases, it will be impossible to maintain the same level of coverage because of the cost. Some will go without insurance and take the risk. Some will use “free” government options (which all of us pay for). Others will bite the bullet and buy insurance, cutting the pay they can use to feed and clothe their families.
I do not want to take a side in the political debate about health care and insurance reform. The simple fact is this: workers are taking on more of a burden in paying for their own health care. That means they have less money to spend. It means they are poorer. That should concern all of us.