Five Guys Burgers and Lies

A franchise owner of the well-loved (until now) “Five Guys Burgers and Fries” burger joints says he may raise prices, fire some employees, or cut back their hours in order to allegedly pay for Obamacare next year.

The franchise owner, Mike Ruffer of North Carolina (go figure), was the “star witness” at a political event at the far-right Heritage Foundation on Monday of this week.  Ruffer is only the latest businessman to aide the GOP war on health care.  He joins proud franchises like Olive Garden/Red Lobster, Whole Foods (where it was the CEO, not a franchise), Wendy’s, Taco Bell and even Papa John’s CEO in expressing public concern, or even scorn, about Obamacare these past few months.

But there really is a special place in hell for someone who’s willing to be used as fodder at a Heritage Foundation political event.  That’s about as political and partisan as you can get.

And while it’s all well and good that Five Guys’ corporate office is distancing itself from its GOP satellite in North Carolina, at some point these companies have to be held responsible for their nutty franchises.

Burger and fries via Shutterstock

Burger and fries via Shutterstock

It’s offensive how bad health insurance is in far too many companies in this country. I know of people personally who gave up on their own company’s health insurance plan, because it cost so much and provided so little, and went instead to the private market themselves, knowing that they were going to be fleeced by private insurers – but they didn’t have a choice.  Better to pay a lot for something than pay a lot for next to nothing, especially when the health of your family, and especially children, is concerned.

Health care costs in America continue to spiral out of control, while health coverage in American companies continues to drop.  All at the same time that politicians in Washington discuss cutting the safety net beneath those programs, Medicare and Medicaid.

The joke is that the biggest problem American companies face isn’t a requirement to provide health insurance for their employees, it’s the actual current cost of such insurance in this country because costs are simply out of control – and it’s hurting competitiveness:

The United States spends an estimated $2 trillion annually on healthcare expenses, more than any other industrialized country. According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States spends two-and-a-half times more than the OECD average, and yet ranks with Turkey and Mexico as the only OECD countries without universal health coverage. Some analysts say an increasing number of U.S. businesses are less competitive globally because of ballooning healthcare costs. U.S. economic woes have heightened the burden of healthcare costs both on individuals and businesses. The U.S. healthcare reform law signed by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010 includes measures aimed at making health care less expensive and more accessible, including upgrades to government-run Medicare and Medicaid.

But far too many companies, and their henchmen in Congress, keep standing in the way of real reform to address the absurd cost of medical care in this country.  So, when we pass laws requiring them to actually provide a decent amount of insurance for their employees, they whine about the cost, but at the same time refuse to help do anything to reduce those costs.

So we continue to fiddle around the margins of a supremely broken health care system that, in my view, is a ticking time bomb.  We are not our parents’ generation.  A lot of them had decent coverage at work.  At lot of us don’t.  And as we age, the need for medical care increases, and a lot of us are just beginning to experience how insanely expensive normal, routine health care is in America today ($21,000 for heartburn, seriously?).  At the same time, our personal wealth decreases or stagnates, and our retirement looks more and more bleak as Republicans and Democrats insist on saving money not by cutting costs, but by cutting benefits to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

If American politicians think today’s seniors are a scary bunch to take on politically, just wait until my generation hits retirement age with our lousy retirement plans, lousy savings, lousy insurance, and even fewer benefits in programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – as all the while health care costs continue to go through the roof.  God help Washington when that finally happens.  Sadly, however, it will probably be too late to do anything about it.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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