A string of studies across the nation has uncovered the ugly truth about workers at big box stores like Wal-Mart: they often get their health care from state and federal taxpayers. The studies show that companies like Wal-Mart have thousands of workers who turn to welfare programs for their health care services. This health care represents a multi-million subsidy to very wealthy corporations, and to charges that Wal-Mart is a healthcare deadbeat. Two bills have been introduced in the state Legislature that would direct the Department of Public Welfare to develop a list of companies of a certain size — 20 workers in one version, 50 in another — whose workers, spouses and dependants get coverage under the state’s version of Medicaid. A similar bill applying to all states was introduced in Congress in June. “When we looked at where the uninsured were working, the highest percentages were in retail and service,” a policy analyst in Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s Office of Health Care Reform told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. The Pennsylvania bills are modeled on legislation in Massachusetts, where a February report found nearly 140 employers with 50 or more workers on their payrolls who also were using public assistance. Wal-Mart workers, for example, cost Massachusetts taxpayers $2.9 million annually in health care subsidies. In Pennsylvania, the state Department of Insurance did an analysis of membership in adultBasic, a state-funded health insurance program for a slightly higher-income group of people. The study of 15,630 applications to the program showed 6,549 people worked for employers that had at least two workers in adultBasic. Retailers such as Kmart, Wal-Mart and Target employed 946 of the enrolleesl, or 14% of the total. Wal-Mart says it covers more than 568,000 of its 1.2 million workers, or 47%, many of whom lacked health insurance or relied on the government before coming to work there.(In other words, going to work at Wal-Mart did not improve their health care status.) Retailers generally have 62% of their workers on health insurance, according to a study of Fortune 500 companies. A Pennsylvania report found 70% of the 800,000 uninsured people in Pennsylvania worked full- or part-time jobs, 83% of those jobs were in retail or service and 20% of those workers without coverage said they worked for firms with over 1,000 employees.
In Congress, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Jon Corzine (D-NJ) have proposed legislation that requires states to report the names of companies with 50 or more employees who use government-funded health care. Both lawmakers criticized Wal-Mart for having 600,000 workers with no health insurance from the company. “This is the ultimate in turning your back on responsibility to society,” Corzine said. “The numbers are staggering.” 15 states already require disclosure of companies with large numbers of workers on state health programs. Florida spent $61 million on health care for Wal-Mart workers, Tennessee spent $47 million, California $32 million, and Arkansas, Wal-Mart’s home state, gave the company $16 million in health care welfare. In the 15 states with reporting laws, Wal-Mart walked off with a staggering $210 million subsidy — courtesy of state and federal taxpayers. Senator Kennedy said that government health programs “should not also have to underwrite the profits for large companies like Wal-Mart.”