Papa John's now a flashpoint in health care debate


by Joe Arnold

Posted on August 9, 2012 at 5:23 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 9 at 6:39 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Papa John's pizza remained a flashpoint in the national healthcare debate on Thursday after comments by Papa John's Founder and CEO John Schnatter became more widely known.

Responding to a stock analyst's question during a conference call on August 1, Schnatter reiterated his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, yet said its cost to Papa John's customers would be about one-tenth what the company charges for
pizza delivery.

"Our best estimate is that the Obamacare will cost about 11 cents to 14 cents per pizza or 15 cents or 20 cents per order from a corporate basis," Schnatter said. "To put that in perspective, our average delivery charge is $1.75 to $2.50 or about ten-fold our estimated cost of the Obamacare to Papa John's."

The connection of the price of pizza to the cost of providing health care to employees sparked criticism from a Los Angeles Times editorialist who called Schnatter, "Papa John the pizza cheapskate."

Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert used the controversy to launch his show on Wednesday night.

"14 cents!  14 cents! That's three times the value of a Papa Johns Pizza," Colbert said to laughter.

"I believe every human being has a fund right to affordable health care, but at what price?" Colbert said in his monologue, "There has to be a line we do not cross.  And it's 14 cents."

Colbert connected Schnatter's health care position to the pizza magnate's support of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  In April, Romney attended a political fundraiser at Schnatter's Anchorage, Ky estate.

"They served Romney's favorite pie there," Colbert said. "Hold the cheese.  Hold the sauce.  Extra dough."

In downtown Louisville on Thursday, people were aware of the flap.

"I don't think that Obamacare has anything to do with increasing the prices on pizza for customers," said Jonathan Giles

Fran Gervais said she was now "probably less likely" to buy a Papa Johns pizza "because I don't think it should be politically bound into your food consumption."

A search for #PapaJohns comments on Twitter showed a steady stream of commentary.

"Schnatter cares only about shareholders."

"Don't worry I'll pay a dime more so your employees have health care."

"Papa John's thinks 11 cents per pizza is too high a cost for universal health care. I think its a fantastic bargain."

Yet some Tweets defended Papa John's, blasting the cost of the federal expansion of health care.

"Papa Johns raises prices to pay new pizza tax - I mean Obamacare."

"Last week was lunch at Chick-fil-A.  This week heading to Papa Johns to support it against the onslaught by mindless progressives."

In a statement to WHAS11 Wednesday night, Papa John's said it understands the importance of healthcare to customers, employees, small business owners and their employees - but also reiterated that Schnatter was simply responding to a question from an analyst.

"When certain business costs increase - such as fuel, ingredients or employee healthcare - there is an impact to the price of products and services," read the statement from Tish Muldoon, Senior Director, Public Relations.

And - that makes perfect sense to those supporting Papa John's.

"Free health care?  Somebody's got to pay for it," said Tim Bayles.  "You can't just add 30 million new patients and think things are going to go down."

"I think it's dumb that we have to pay more for our food so that (Obama) can mandate our healthcare," added Sheena Searcy.

Yet, in the end, this may be just a tempest in a... pizza oven.

"I'll still buy it," said Mark Badgett.  "I don't see why it would raise his prices but I'll still buy it from him."

"Well, 10 cents, to be honest when I'm hungry I want pizza," said Charles Burns, "So I'm going to probably buy it."

It doesn't make a difference?

"Doesn't make a difference," Burns responded.

Even the Comedy Central host softened his tone.

"Personally I love Papa John's pizza," Colbert said. "I believe they're a sponsor. Order some right now."