Healthcare: What options do restaurants have?

healthcare stethoscope


Is there any help for cooks who do not have insurance but have been seriously injured and have an extraordinary amount of hospital bills?I have a friend who was seriously injured, and I’m looking to find a way to help and connect him to the right people.

– Purveyor, New York City


Restaurants continue to have high rates of underinsured and uninsured workers, even with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Employees, especially younger employees and those lower on the pay scale, tend to underestimate the importance of coverage—one serious injury could bankrupt a family. The promising news is that there are increasing options for restaurant workers and their families to get affordable healthcare coverage; the bad news in this case is that hindsight is 20/20, especially when it comes to insurance. Writing on the topic, Lorri Mealey says, “Even though the restaurant industry employs over 14 million individuals, it has a disproportioned amount of underinsured or uninsured workers.”

One of the most promising startups I’ve seen in this space is Alice, a service that helps workers to pay for medical and other expenses using pretax income. Head of Business Development Paul Kennard says, “A surprise visit to the hospital can be life changing—not only because of the physical trauma and recovery, but the financial devastation is real and lasting. Too many Americans are faced with the terrifying question of, ‘How do I pay for this and for how long?’Benefits like health insurance are mainstream for most industries, but not the restaurant industry. I recall ROC United did a survey that found 89% of restaurant workers reported that the employers did not provide them health insurance.

“[The National Restaurant Association] reports 70% of the industry is concerned with the price of health insurance—the restaurant business operates on thin margins and insurance often doesn’t make the cut. But there are other benefits that can help workers when they have medical expenses at no cost to the employer, [and] the restaurants save money on their payroll taxes. Alice, an NYC-based tech startup, is focused on the restaurant industry because employers and employees are desperate for benefits that fit them instead of what works for white collar America.  

“Under the hood, Alice is a combo of HSA, CRAs [and] FSAs that help by letting workers pay for medical expenses (and other expenses) out of their pretax income. … This person is going to have ongoing medical expenses when they get out of the hospital—prescriptions, tests, follow-up care, and also the cost of the hospital stay, which will take time to pay off. Although Alice can’t fix health insurance in America or give this person health insurance coverage, pretax spending is real money back on this person’s paycheck that will help with these bills.”

Of course, no amount of pretax savings for the typical restaurant worker will repair thousands of dollars of medical bills, so it is important to be proactive.

My advice to restaurants is simple:

  1. Be sure you’re in compliance with the Affordable Care Act. Even if you’re not required to offer insurance, or not all employees are eligible, make resources available to all employees and their families.
  2. Use your experience as an owner to educate employees on the importance of planning and insurance. Look for innovations like Kennard’s that can help you provide benefits to employees while also benefiting your business through tax savings and reduced turnover as well as intangibles.


More on healthcare for restaurant employees here

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