Max Kothari, owner of Express Kitchens and Flooring in Hartford’s North end where New Haven Mayor John DeStefano unveiled his universal healthcare initiative Wednesday said, he would like to make health insurance more affordable for his 12 employees.DeStefano’s plan sounds like it’s a step in the right direction, he said.Click here to read the New Haven Independent’s story about the plan.At the moment some of Kothari’s employees can’t afford the health insurance plan he offers because they “can’t have any reductions in their paychecks when every last cent is used to pay monthly bills,” he said.

The employees are paid from $12 to $15 an hour. Kothari said he pays 50 percent of the premium for the employees which is about $250 per employee. He said the premium increases between eight and 12 percent a year. “Naturally I want my employees to have healthcare, but it’s difficult” he said. “It’s either good benefits or no benefits,” and DeStefano’s plan seems to offer something to those in the middle, he added. The employees who can’t afford insurance are the ones faced with “making really hard choices,” Kothari said. DeStefano said most of the residents in the state who are uninsured are underinsured work 40 hours or more a week. Following DeStefano’s press conference Wednesday three members of the Sikorsky Teamsters union that attended the event Wednesday said they volunteered to give back their pay increases in exchange for the health insurance benefits in the union’s previous contract. The new contract they signed after a strike, increases the employee contribution 50 percent in the first year of the new contract. The premium will increase 15 percent on top of that for the next two years, a Sikorsky Teamster Stephen French, said. If that wasn’t bad enough, paying the premium only gives employees access to the plan, if an employee wants to use the plan it could cost them $3,500 to $10,000 a year in additional healthcare costs, such as co-pays and prescription drug coverage, French said.Helen Pipa, another Sikorsky employee, said she’s on her husband’s insurance. Her husband John Pipa is also a Sikorsky employee. She said she opted out of the insurance package, but still receives less than half the premium, $12 per week, back from the company. Sikorsky is self-insured and uses the remainder of Pipa’s deductible to pay the claims when they come through, French said. “It used to be about building good helicopters,” he said. But now the helicopters are being built on the backs of employee healthcare savings. “Where are all the profits going?” he asked. Sikorsky is owned by United Technologies Corp.The Sikorsky helicopter operation is funded by US Defense contracts, which are funded by federal tax dollars. Pipa said that alone should make taxpayers mad as hell.Click here to read about the beginning of the Sikorsky strike. DeStefano said Wednesday that he would use corporate tax credits to offer companies that dedicate 5 percent of their payroll toward employee healthcare insurance on their own. So unlike the Massachusetts plan that penalizes employers who don’t offer insurance, it rewards companies for being good corporate citizens, DeStefano said.