Healthy Wisconsin won’t be healthy for my business

    I have purposely remained on the sidelines regarding the Healthy Wisconsin health care tax initiative. I assumed that this idea would eventually flame out as people much smarter than me debated the merits and exposed the fact that the initiative is fiscally and pragmatically flawed.

    We are now in mid-September, and this initiative still has strong support. So, here are a couple more reasons, from a small-business person’s perspective, why this program will be bad for business here in Wisconsin.

    Because I know it so well, I am using Scheibel Halaska Inc. (SH) as an example:

    The Healthy Wisconsin overview on the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic website lists "Levels the playing field among competing businesses" as one of the top five reasons why this is a good idea. A good idea for who? Our competition for the best employees?

    SH is owned by two baby boomers who grew up in the 1960’s and still have a "help your fellow man" perspective. As such, we have purposefully built a corporate culture and employee benefit program that is continuously focused on taking care of as many of our employees’ fundamental human concerns as possible, which includes offering health insurance to all full-time employees.

    SH has found this to be a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining the best employees. This initiative legislates one of our competitive advantages right out of existence.

    The premium-sharing percentages will financially penalize almost all of our employees.  The total insurance tax percentage of this initiative is 14.5 percent. Employees pay for 4 percentage points of this initiative, or 27.6 percent of the total cost. A majority of our employees elect single coverage, for which they only pay 10 percent of the total premiums. This initiative is going to triple the cost of health care to a large portion of our employees.

    Government has a long history of failing to effectively manage large-scale social services programs – we need only look at Social Security and Medicare for grounding for this statement. Why will this initiative be different? If history repeats itself, 14.5 percent of Social security earnings is only the ante.

    In previous editions of the Milwaukee Biz Blog, SBT executive editor Steve Jagler and health care benefits consultant Dick Tillmar have commented that Wisconsin’s businesspeople need to quit whining and start offering alternatives. It is in this spirit that I offer these two suggestions:

    1. Mandate this initiative for any employer who is not currently offering health insurance benefits to its employees. This will definitely level the playing field for people who compete within the Wisconsin marketplace.
    2. Allow employers who currently offer health insurance benefits to choose to participate (or not) in this initiative – now and into the future. If this initiative actually is as good of an idea as the Wisconsin State Senate Democrats say it is, aren’t we going to end up in the same place anyways?

    I am all in favor of creative thinking and bold initiatives with regard to solving the health care situation in Wisconsin, especially within southeastern Wisconsin. However, "off-the-wall ideas" are not the same as "out-of-the-box thinking."


    John Scheibel is the chief executive officer of Scheibel Hlaska Inc. in Milwaukee.

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