Popeyes may not get Obamacare, but it's helping out the rest of retail

Popeyes (NASDAQ:AFCE) has become the poster child for misinformation about the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and its mandate for individuals to get health insurance or pay a penalty -- and that may be the best service the quick-service chicken chain can provide for the rest of retail.

In the latest round over the weekend, Popeyes U.S. president Ralph Bower first told The Huffington Post on Friday (March 29) he predicted that some Popeyes employees would cut their own hours to part-time in order to avoid having to pay for chain-provided insurance, then later corrected himself when he was informed that the mandate applies to both full- and part-time workers.

Previously, Popeyes and other quick-service chains overestimated how much the health insurance mandate would cost by as much as 400 percent to investors -- and then eventually walked those estimates back.

So how is that a service to other retailers, who have been quietly figuring out how to keep the mandate's disruption and cost to a minimum? Leave aside the reality that it makes the rest of the industry look competent. (OK, don't leave that aside -- it's a benefit in itself.)

But every time a Popeyes executive trots out a questionable claim, a swarm of economists and industry analysts happily reality-check the statement. It's the cheapest way possible for retailers of all sizes to get a clearer understanding of what the mandate will cost and how it will be implemented. (It also means associates are that much more likely to get a clearer understanding, too.)

Considering what a poor job federal and state governments have done explaining this so far, employees need all the help they can get. For example, on Monday (April 1), Vermont became the first state to quote actual insurance rates under the mandate, so employers can figure out how to set rates for what they'll offer to employees. That means there's a 49-state information gap.

Anything new -- especially new rules, new paperwork and new costs that have to be allocated -- is guaranteed to raise the misery level for retailers. If Popeyes wants to float its loopiest ideas about employee insurance, fair enough -- at least everyone else won't have to make the same mistakes.

For more:

- see this Huffington Post story
- see the Vermont rates

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