EDITORIAL: Trading down to Obamacare

Employers are waking up, trying to smell the missing coffee

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The public remains deeply skeptical about Obamacare. Several new polls find that most people still think it’s a bad idea, and opinions divide not just between liberals and conservatives, but rankle everybody.

The government health care takeover has forced employers large and small to cut health insurance coverage, if not cancel it, for part-time employees, their spouses and retirees. Two iconic marketplace brands take two dramatically different survival plans, pitting 2 percent chai lattes against Two-Buck Chuck. Starbucks coffee chief Howard Schultz insists it’s “a good thing for the country.” Trader Joe‘s, the specialty grocery-store chain, begs to differ. Joe will no longer provide health care coverage to part-timers. Part-timers in the checkout lines, stocking the shelves and wrangling carts in the parking lot will get a check for $500, printed instructions directing them to the nearest Obamacare insurance exchange, and a wish for good luck. Those exchanges are scheduled to open Oct. 1, ready or not. Most aren’t.

Starbucks, unlike UPS, Time Warner, IBM, Delta Air Lines, Seaworld, the state universities of Virginia and Indiana and others, including Trader Joe‘s, will tough it out. Even as major employers around the country warn of Obamacare’s rising costs and cut coverage or dispense with coverage altogether, the Starbucks CEO recently told CNBC, “I would encourage [employers] to find ways to provide the insurance and not figure out a way to either lower the hours or get around the system.” That may be easier for him to say than for an earnest coffee grinder to get insurance.

Trader Joe’s employees are going on the dole. “We believe that with the $500 from Trader Joe’s and the tax credits available under [Obamacare],” Trader Joe’s CEO Dan Bane wrote in an Aug. 30 memo, “many of you should be able to obtain health care coverage at very little, if any, net cost to you.” Other employers are likely to follow, assigning their health expenses to the public. Sending Americans into the exchanges, where government subsidies for coverage is available, will drive up costs for everyone.

The Trader Joe’s view of Obamacare is in line with that of rival grocery chain Whole Foods. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey once likened Obamacare to a socialistic “government takeover of our health care system.” That was in an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal in 2009. By the middle of January this year, he had changed his mind. “It’s more like fascism,” he told NPR News. “In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it, and that’s what happening with our health care programs and these reforms.”

Nancy Pelosi once cheerily told one and all about Obamacare that “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it,” and it turns out that she was right. Congress passed it, and now we’re finding out what’s in it. President Obama and the Democrats are finding out that almost nobody likes it.

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