Obamacare – A Storytelling Opportunity
I have a very healthy relationship with my neighborhood Kroger store. The receipt from my latest excursion to the nearby grocery store says I saved $12.56 – or 19% – of my total grocery tab, thanks to the company’s “Kroger Plus” incentive program.
And the last time I filled up the tank, I did so at Kroger and with the accrued “fuel points” I earn from my frequent outings, I saved 60 cents per gallon. Not bad.
But one of the greatest things about my local Kroger is the employees. There is one in particular named “David” who has been part of the full-time staff there at least as long as I have lived in the area – since 1997.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that, although it has never come up in conversation, that “David” has some sort of developmental disability that likely keeps him in a lower-skilled position at the store. Nevertheless, “David” energetically and enthusiastically carries out every duty he’s assigned: bagging groceries, collecting shopping carts from the parking lot, changing the bottle-return bins, stocking shelves, etc.
In addition to being the hardest working, “David” is also one of the kindest store workers I’ve ever met. We have friendly chats. Like me, he likes Michigan Football and he’s known my sons practically since they were born. I knew he was close to his mom and was sad for him when he told me a few years ago that she had passed away.
For reasons like “David” as well as the proximity, I’m less inclined to shop at the big competitors (here in Michigan that would be Meijer and of course the ubiquitous WalMart). However, the closest of these bigger stores are nearly 10 miles from my house. That happens when these big-box stores want to set up shop. They simply cannot fit inside snug residential neighborhoods.
When deciding their business model and market niche, Kroger executives instead stuck with the neighborhood grocery store model. They snatched up lots of neighborhood grocery stores and stayed geographically much closer to their clientele. They may sacrifice the space and selection offered by their big-box competitors, but they must be doing something right, as Reuters pointed out last fall that Kroger is the nation’s #1 supermarket operator, netting sales of $316 million in the 3rd quarter of 2012.
So perhaps Kroger will have greater success flexing its vocal cords in opposition to Obamacare than some others. Kroger CEO David Dillon said in a recent Financial Times piece that some companies “might opt to pay a government-mandated penalty for not providing insurance because it was cheaper than the cost of coverage.”
As the article discusses, the penalty, for companies with more than 50 employees is $2,000 per worker. Compare that with how much employers shell out to provide coverage to their employees. The Kaiser Family Foundation found employers pay an average of $4,664 for single workers and $11,429 for family coverage.
Dillon told the Financial Times that while Kroger will still cover all full-time employees, parts of the law were “simply not workable”:
“If you look through the economics of the penalty the companies pay versus the cost to provide coverage, the penalty’s too low, or the cost of coverage is too high, or the combination is wrong,” he said.
Dillon certainly deserves applause and support, especially since the media whipsawed some of his CEO peers (such as Papa John’s John Schnatter) who lashed out publicly against Obamacare’s draconian and costly regulations. Their alleged sins were simply suggesting they will have to reduce their workforces either by layoffs or hours per week to make up for the cost of being forced to either cover their employees or pay the hefty fine imposed on employers that do not provide coverage when they have more than 50 full-timers.
A Denny’s franchise owner who had the audacity to suggest to a reporter he’d consider a 5 percent surcharge on the restaurants’ meals to cover these costs was quickly hushed by company ‘representatives’ in order to keep the restaurants in good PR standing.
So how can Dillon and other CEOs avoid the same tongue-lashing from the media, followed by the general public who see the business executives’ complaints as greedy whining? They may want to take a cue from a man named David Goldhill.
Goldhill is a media figure in his own right – president and CEO of the Game Show Network and a former president of the Universal Television Group.
See, Goldhill knows how to bring up the epic problems of government-controlled health care. He shoots us right between the eyes and aims for the heart with personal stories of real people, affected by these bad policies.
Starting with his own dad. In a 2009 piece in The Atlantic, Goldhill told a gut-wrenching story titled “How American Health Care Killed My Father.” Through first-hand testimony, Goldhill told of his journey from businessman and grieving son to crusader for solutions to the nation’s health care ills through first-hand testimony that nearly everyone reading this piece right now can relate to in their own lives: (here are just a couple of excerpts)
“ALMOST TWO YEARS ago, my father was killed by a hospital-borne infection in the intensive-care unit of a well-regarded nonprofit hospital in New York City.”
“Keeping Dad company in the hospital for five weeks had left me befuddled. How can a facility featuring state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment use less-sophisticated information technology than my local sushi bar? How can the ICU stress the importance of sterility when its trash is picked up once daily, and only after flowing onto the floor of a patient’s room?”
Goldhill brought this up again recently with an op-ed in the New York Times, this time breaking down in very personal, eye-level terms how much money health care – exacerbated by Obamacare – will actually rob from every person’s paycheck.
He did this by simply talking about a woman who had just been hired by his company:
“NOT long ago, a 23-year-old woman joined my company as an assistant in the advertising sales department at a starting salary of $35,000. Smart, ambitious and poised, she should have a promising future. Unfortunately, her earnings prospects are threatened.”
Goldhill continues this personal story, taking us step by step through the math that shows this young woman will ‘bear at least $1.8 million in health care costs over her lifetime.”
“My new employee thinks that she is paying roughly $2,600 for health care in her first year on the job — her $500 deductible plus her $2,100 share of the company’s health insurance premiums. In fact, she’s paying more than $10,000 into the country’s health care system. As her employer, our company will pay $6,190 of her health care costs, money that might otherwise go to her in salary. (From my point of view as a chief executive of a company, health care is just a different form of compensation.) She is also paying more than $1,500 in federal and state taxes to finance Medicare and Medicaid.”
With his ‘kitchen-table’ discussion of how bad policy hurts good people, like his father and his bright new 23 year old employee, he has now framed these stories in such a way that he cannot be accused of simply being a greedy business bigwig. To do so would make the accuser an insensitive and irresponsible imbecile.
It’s not that Dillon, Schnatter and the others do not have legitimate complaints about what the cost of Obamacare will do to their businesses. It’s that they have not articulated it on a level that makes us feel anything but contempt for a wealthy CEO lifestyle.
If business leaders can show, like Goldhill, that they get the plight of an ill father or an unsuspecting eager new hire, and that they care about that plight, the narrative might shift in favor of defending free enterprise, not destroying it.
Instead of saying things like, “economics of the penalty the companies pay versus the cost to provide coverage,” perhaps Mr. Dillon could tell the story of what might happen to my Kroger friend “David” as a result of Obamacare’s overreach.
In fact, Kroger could start a real-life narrative of “David” vs. Goliath (of Big Government.)
That storyline has a track record of working pretty well.
PLEASE STEAL OUR STUFF!
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