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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ryan Hidinger's death and thoughts about health insurance in the restaurant industry

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  • Courtesy the Giving Kitchen

Condolences to the family and friends of chef Ryan Hidinger who died earlier this month. John Kessler of the AJC wrote the story of Hidinger's journey, his colleagues' support, and the creation of a foundation, The Giving Kitchen Initiative, to help when medical crisis hits others in their business.

Although I don't know Hidinger's personal situation as far as insurance goes, the story points to what's been one of the most shameful aspects of the restaurant industry for years - the widespread lack of adequate employer-assisted health insurance, if any at all. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare - will change that for many during the next two years.

I say "two years," because in July the Obama administration approved a yearlong delay in the requirement that those employing 50 or more full-time employees offer health insurance. Meanwhile, the employees can still purchase individual discounted plans by way of the ACA marketplace exchange. (Well, that's true unless their earnings are so low they only qualify for the expanded Medicaid, which our ideologically cretinous Georgia legislators decided not to offer.)

Not surprisingly, we've seen the usual greedy business owners threaten to cut the hours of full-time employees to part-time status, or to stop hiring full-time workers altogether. Public backlash has made a few - like the lords of Red Lobster - rethink their threat.

About three years ago, an acquaintance who was a full-time server at a mid-sized restaurant in town became perpetually hoarse. He saw a doctor who first diagnosed ordinary laryngitis and, then, after months, insisted my friend get an MRI. He couldn't afford it and, by the time he got the money together, he was critically ill. He died of throat cancer.

In the last year or so, two restaurant managers I know who worked at good "boutique" restaurants went to work at comparatively crappy high-volume restaurants for no reason but the health insurance.

America will continue its descent into third-world status if its citizenry doesn't reject the bizarrely masochistic view that health care is a luxury rather than a right. It is particularly disconcerting to think that the owners of an industry whose job is to nourish customers can be so unnurturing to their own.

Ryan Hidinger's story is a moving account of the way restaurant people have come together to help one another... when our doctors, hospitals, and drug companies demand more and more cash piled in their greedy paws. Hopefully, some day very soon all people who are fighting for their lives or to live out their final months with dignity will not be pursued to the grave and beyond by fiscal vultures.

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