City Businesses Want To Expand Healthcare Costs?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

As a business owner you know fees and property taxes impact the bottom line. The Chattanooga City Council's recently passed ordinance extends healthcare insurance to the "domestic partners" of city employees. Unless your business has no real estate or you do not lease a building, the cost of Chattanooga's employee domestic partner benefits should concern you.  

Your property taxes will be used to fund the highly subsidized insurance coverage provided to the girlfriends and boyfriends of city workers who qualify. If you think this insurance will only be available to a select few same-sex couples, think again.  The ordinance applies equally to heterosexual and homosexual unmarried partners. It also covers the dependents of the partner, even those unrelated to the employee, so long as the employee wishes to claim them.  Statistically speaking, insurance coverage of heterosexual girlfriends and boyfriends will likely far exceed the male/male or female/female partners. 

The special interests that forced passage of this ordinance would have you believe that those who oppose the ordinance hate homosexuals or are religious fanatics. Contrary to that rally cry, the petition effort is not about hating people who are gay. It's about putting this matter before the taxpayers who pay the freight. They deserve the right to vote this one "up" or "down." 

Furthermore, not wanting to give married health benefits to unmarried people does not mean you hate homosexuals or heterosexuals. It's about not creating another unfunded entitlement during a time of insurance and healthcare crisis. As the Unaffordable Care Act unfolds, there could not be a worse time to enlarge the number of healthcare enrollees that taxpayers support. 

If you view this ordinance from strictly a business perspective, it tracks back to your bottom line. This is not a Chicken Little wake up call. If you need a live example of how poor elected official decisions are manifested, take a look at your annual storm water fees. The need to address those issues didn't crop up overnight. It took years of misspent dollars and ignoring ditch maintenance by the prior mayor and his appointees. They subtlety and creatively led our city to owe millions of dollars to satisfy the long overlooked federal water regulations.  

For business owners, salaries, wages, and healthcare costs are among the biggest budget expenditures. If employee healthcare expenses skyrocket, revenues go down. With city government the results are different. If the city's employee healthcare expenses go up, elected officials look to property owners to make up the difference. As a taxpaying commercial property owner, that chicken comes back to roost on your front step.  

How much will it cost to extend healthcare benefits to all the unmarried live-in partners of city employees? It's a good question. The Berke Administration has estimated the entire cost probably won't exceed 1 percent of the total benefits budget. Their estimate is $168,000/year.  Please keep in mind that the city has a self-insured insurance plan. There are about 2,700 employees. We don't know what it will cost. When asked for a specific cost, the city human resource director had to admit he really did not know.  We do know it will be significant and it will go up. 

Knowing what you know about healthcare costs, do you think $168,000/year would cover the costs of adding girlfriends, boyfriends and their dependents to city insurance coverage? In a self-insured health plan, one very ill person's bill could easily consume the total estimate in short order. 

If you think the ordinance is a good idea for the city and you are also moving to provide insurance coverage for all your employee's "domestic partners" and their dependents, do nothing.  However, if you think the City Council members who voted for the ordinance (Jerry Mitchell, Carol Berz, Moses Freeman, Yusuf Hakeem, Chris Anderson) made a bad decision, lend your support to the petition drive. Go to www.itsyourvotetn.com and download copies of the petition. Place the petitions on the counter in your business and encourage city voters to sign it. Since the city of Chattanooga passed this, only city of Chattanooga registered voter signatures can put it on the ballot for a city referendum.  

If you can help or have questions, call 499-1284. Citizens for Accountability and Transparency will arrange for petition pick-up at your place of business. There must be 4,500 registered voter signatures by Dec. 3 to qualify for a place on the ballot. They seem to be fighting to protect something you ought to care about.

John Pierce
Chattanooga

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