A Los Angeles restaurant is facing heavy criticism from diners over a new policy that has added a 3 percent tax to the ticket when dining out. The new surcharge is meant to allow the business to pay for the health care insurance costs for their employees, but customers are split over whether the blatant add-on is an open and honest admission about the costs of doing business, or a sign that restaurant owners are simply gouging their guests.
According to the LA Times, Republique restaurant is embarking on a new, transparent means of passing on health care costs to consumers, with a 3 percent “Healthy LA” surcharge per diner. The charge, according to the restaurant owners, will go directly to paying for new employee health insurance plans, a must have under the new Affordable Care Act for any business that employs more than 50 full time employees. Some of the plans that will be offered will be completely paid for by the company, others will have employees pay a portion of the cost, but all will be accessible to all workers, regardless of whether they are hourly, tip based, at the front of the restaurant or back in the kitchens.
The charge, however, has some diners upset. According to the newspaper, one customer even asked if the surcharge could be removed from her ticket, saying “she doesn’t appreciate an extra tax that’s added without sufficient explanation, and she has no way of knowing whether the restaurant will use the extra money for the stated cause.”
If the restaurant were really trying to pull one over on its customers, though, it would make far more sense to hide the additional costs within menu items with higher prices or smaller portions. Instead, that was what the owners said that they were trying to avoid by putting the charge in the open, both in the menu and on the final bill.
With so many restaurants already struggling in competitive markets, is a surcharge really too much to handle when dining out, especially when it means extending health care not just to those who take your order, but those who wash your dishes, bus your table and prepare your food? Especially considering those are the workers most likely to come into contact with you if they do have a health issue, and are least likely to be able to take time off when they are ill?
Faced with the mandate to offer insurance to full time employees, some restaurants originally threatened to cut hours to create more part time jobs instead, a policy that would have caused even greater harm to workers. Others also suggested adding a surcharge, but public pressure forced them to back off.
Could the same happen at Republique? Owners admit that at this point the charge is on a trial run and may not be permanent, but they state, “Even if this isn’t the perfect solution, it’s definitely a solution, and so far, there isn’t any other solution.”
Of course, there is one solution, and it’s the most obvious solution when it comes to our country’s health insurance issue. Insurance shouldn’t be tied through one’s employer in any way. The opening of insurance exchanges in the states and federally began to address that issue, but only for those who weren’t already receiving or may potentially receive plans through their employers. By moving to a true single payer system, and off of this hybrid of employer obligation and government options, we could actually let all people get subsidized, affordable, quality insurance, and businesses could be removed from the equation, as they should be.
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