- - Friday, March 7, 2014

Free-market economist Milton Friedman popularized the folk saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” taking it as the title for a book.

Forty years on, it’s taking on a new meaning with restaurants across the country telling customers there will be an unappetizing “Obamacare surcharge” on their bills.

Denver’s KCNC-TV reported Wednesday that Double D’s Sourdough Pizza, a family-owned cafe, will add a new topping on their pies: a 5 percent surcharge to help cover the cost of employees’ health insurance under Obamacare.

Owner Ted Dorr estimates that the surcharge will pay for half the cost of coverage for his employees. The rest has to come out of either his pocket or theirs, or both.

It’s all a bit of a game, of course. Insurance is a cost of doing business, and a cafe owner could just as logically separate the rising cost of potatoes or cooking oil and put a notice on the menu that he’s charging a quarter more for french fries, and here’s why.

It’s all marketing, and Obamacare is this season’s loss leader. The president richly deserves the honor, it seems to us.

The money, after all, has to come from somewhere to pay for the health insurance mandates imposed by a Democratic Congress with little regard for whether businesses such as the Denver pizzeria could afford it.

Nobody in Washington worries about the problems of such shopkeepers very much. Hillary Clinton summed up Washington’s attitude years ago when she was beating the drum for Hillarycare: “I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized small business in America.”

She might not put it quite that way when and if she campaigns for president.

The Denver surcharge added $1.51 to customer Bonnie Bell’s $30 tab, and she didn’t appreciate it. “I don’t think it should be shoved in people’s faces like this,” she said.

But rising prices for goods and services of all kinds became inevitable after Obamacare was enacted in 2010. Cliff Young, a business professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, says he expects more restaurants and other service-sector businesses to add Obamacare surcharges.

In Florida, customers at eight Gator’s Dockside restaurants are greeted with blunt notice at the door: “The costs associated with [Affordable Care Act] compliance could ultimately close our doors. Instead of raising prices on our products to generate the additional revenue need to cover the costs of ACA compliance, certain Gator’s Dockside locations have implemented a 1 percent surcharge on all food and beverage purchases only.”

This appears on the check as “ACA surcharge,” directly above the bottom line.

The upscale Republique restaurant in Los Angeles has been adding a 3 percent Obamacare surcharge, explained on the menu, since opening in November.

“Even if this isn’t the perfect solution, it’s definitely a solution,” owner-chef Walter Manske tells a television interviewer, “and so far, there isn’t any other solution.”

Obamacare was designed to provide benefits to certain demographic groups without letting on to younger folks that they would be paying far more than their share. Transparency is a good thing, though the Obama Democrats might not think so in November.

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