Can Hawaii restaurants charge healthcare fees?

You go to a restaurant, order your food, then pay your bill, but then you see a new fee tacked on your receipt. It says “healthcare surcharge.”

That’s what a KHON2 viewer saw when she recently dined out at a Hawaii restaurant.

“I haven’t heard of this type of fee before being charged to consumers in Hawaii,” said Stephen Levins, executive director of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs’ Office of Consumer Protection.

In this situation, the local restaurant had placed a three-percent surcharge on customer bills.

The restaurant’s owner says that surcharge was to help pay for his workers’ healthcare plans. He says the fee was displayed on the menu and on the receipt.

So can all businesses just add on this type of fee?

“It really depends on the circumstances and we just have to take a look,” said Levins. “For instance, if they are advertising a fee that doesn’t exist, a phantom fee, it may not be allowable. If it’s a legitimate fee, it may be.”

The DCCA says if the consumer knows what he’s paying for and the fee is going to exactly what is stated, then it could be fine. But if any of that fee is going elsewhere or consumers are misled, there can be penalties.

“If we see something that appears to be unfair or deceptive trade practice, we’re going to take a careful look at it,” said Levins.

Businesses that violate consumer rights can face penalties ranging from $500 to $10,000 per violation.

“The preferred practice for most merchants in the state of Hawaii is to just have the entire cost stated up front,” said Levins.

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