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Wharton: Granite District wrong not to provide insurance

Published May 2, 2013 3:49 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As a Granite School District taxpayer living in Taylorsville, I find the district's plan to keep 5,200 hourly workers from working more than 29 hours to avoid paying for their health insurance offensive. I would be willing to see a slight rise in my property taxes to pay for such a benefit.

If the cost of my pizza rose a quarter, the price of a fast-food burger or taco went up a few pennies or I had to pay a nickel more for a cup of coffee so low-paid employees could get health insurance, so be it.

This shouldn't be a free ride, of course. The policies could have high deductibles, as is the case with many employee health insurance benefits, and workers should contribute part of the cost through deductions from their paycheck.

That said, I can't believe that employers can be so callous that they go to such great lengths to avoid doing the right thing. And the right thing is taking care of the people who work at school district, a fast-food franchise, a state liquor store or a big-box store.

Do we really want a bus driver who can't afford to get new glasses because of lack of insurance driving our kids? How about a lunch worker trying to make ends meet who comes to school with a sinus infection because he or she can't afford to go to the doctor or the co-pay on a prescription is too high? How about a fast-food cook working three jobs to pay the rent who can lose all three if he or she gets sick?

Do you want to patronize businesses that engender employee loyalty by offering them decent benefits, or is the lure of saving a few pennies so important that supposedly religious people become perfectly OK with exploiting fellow human beings?

I liked what Geoff Leonard of the Utah School Employees Association told The Tribune's Jennifer Dobner.

"We believe that course [cutting hours to avoid paying health-insurance benefits] is short-sighted and, over the long term, will reduce the level of service provided to the district's students and patrons," he said. "Limited-hour positions without benefits tend to attract a less-skilled, transitory work force less committed to the goals of the district as they move on in search of a job with compensation that will allow them to provide for their families."

I am not a big fan of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. While it is certainly better than what we had before its passage, it's not as good as a single-payer system would be.

It seems to me that if my taxes increase to pay for health insurance, but I no longer have to shell out two or three times that much to match what my employer is putting into a policy, I'm going to come out ahead. That's especially true if deductibles and prescription drug costs also are lower.

How could single payer not help business owners who would no longer have to worry about providing the health-insurance benefit to their employees?

One thing is certain: The current system is terrible.

Those who have decent insurance are often afraid to take risks or change jobs for fear of losing it. They also struggle with increasingly high premiums, out-of-control medical costs, maximum caps and unwieldy billing nightmares. That doesn't even take into account that their costs are higher because they are forced to subsidize those who get sick without insurance and show up for care at emergency rooms that can't turn them away.

Those without insurance are a major injury or a cancer diagnosis away from losing everything they have.

Of course, there are those defenders of the current system who would just as soon tell people without insurance that they should go ahead and die because they didn't take the personal responsibility of getting insured or saving for a catastrophe. It's survival of the richest and the fittest.

Personally, I prefer a society where we take care of folks' basic needs. And access to health care rates up there with food, housing, police and fire protection, military security and infrastructure as something that we all need.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton