You want insurance with that? Fast food chain covers its employees and helps its bottom line

Burgerville, a small fast-food chain in the Pacific Northwest, has always made a killer fresh blackberry shake. Recently, it also made a shrewd business move: providing health insurance for employees. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on the genesis and results of this new strategy.

Its move to pay more health-care costs began with a 2005 employee survey, in which health costs unexpectedly registered as the top concern. At the time, Burgerville offered limited coverage to hourly employees, who had to pay premiums of roughly $42 a month for an individual and $105 a month for a family, plus annual deductibles of up to $1,000.

In response, the company expanded coverage to all employees who work 20 hours a week or more and began paying 90 percent of the premiums.

In absorbing more of the costs, Burgerville’s annual health-care bill nearly doubled, to $4.1 million from $2.1 million. But company leaders figured the move would boost recruiting and retention.

This prediction was accurate, as turnover has been cut in half and both sales and productivity are on the rise.

Oklahoma has a strong small business community that forms the foundation for our economy. These firms have grown and prospered through smart investment and innovation. If they are to continue doing so, they will have to compete for the best employees, keep costs under control, and find ways to become more productive. The smart ones will learn from companies like Burgerville and see employee health insurance as a key ingredient for success. Fortunately, Oklahoma offers an affordable and effective way for small businesses to cover their employees through Insure Oklahoma, which covers more than half the cost of insurance for employees making up to 200 percent of the poverty level in companies with fewer than 100 workers.This program is so successful that it is reaching the capacity available with its current funding sources. Making sure we can keep expanding this program – helping small businesses compete and addressing our state’s poor health insurance coverage rate – should be on the Legislature’s menu next year. And if we could get one of those shakes…


Paul Shinn

Paul Shinn served as Budget and Tax Senior Policy Analyst with OK Policy from May 2019 until December 2021. Before joining OK Policy, Shinn held budget and finance positions for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the Department of Human Services, the cities of Oklahoma City and Del City and several local governments in his native Oregon. He also taught political science and public administration at the University of Oklahoma, University of Central Oklahoma, and California State University Stanislaus. While with the Government Finance Officers Association, Paul worked on consulting and research projects for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and several state agencies and local governments. He also served as policy analyst for CAP Tulsa. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from University of Oklahoma and degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland College Park. He lives in Oklahoma City with his wife Carmelita.

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