Three Wal-Mart executives flew from Arkansas to Olympia, Washington this week to defend the company’s bottom line from a proposed state law that would make them buy their own workers health insurance. According to the Seattle Times, lawmakers in Washington are considering a bill that would require employers with 50 or more workers to provide health coverage for all employees, or pay a fee into the state’s Basic Health Plan. This so-called “pay or play” concept was attempted last year unsuccessfully in California, where the Governor opposed it, and retailers like Wal-Mart lobbied against it. The “Health Care Responsibility Act,” which supporters also refer to as the “Wal-Mart bill,” is bolstered by the fact that currently many corporations like Wal-Mart have significant numbers of employees using tax-suppported state health plans. The Washington Health Care Authority reported that the state’s Basic Health Plan has 261 Wal-Mart employees enrolled in the plan. Target had 68 workers on the plan. Similar studies in Georgia, Massachsuetts, Tennessee, and West Viriginia have all demonstrated that Wal-Mart is one of the leading companies whose workers and their dependents rely on tax-subsidized health plans. Wal-Mart sent out John Haefner, a director of benefits for the company, who testified that about half their employees are enrolled in one of eight health plans. “Unfortunately, a small percentage tell us they can’t afford health care from Wal-Mart or any other source,” Haefner added. He said a worker can get health insurance for $40 a month while a family can buy coverage for $155 a month. Full-time workers qualify for coverage after three to six months on the job, while part-time workers must wait two years, he added. What Wal-Mart may not have explained is that their plan has high deductibles and copayments — and by their own admission — is a catastrophic care plan only, not good for basic everyday health care expenses. Another Wal-Mart spokesman, Nate Hurst, said, “We do not design our medical plan to be supplemented by public assistance, nor do we encourage our associates to apply for such programs.” Yet 55% of Wal-Mart workers don’t use their company’s health plan, and their workers end up at the top of the taxpayer-supported list. In essence, giant retailers making billions of dollars in annual profits are freeloading off the state health care programs, another ‘hidden cost’ of Wal-Mart to taxpayers.
For earlier stories on this matter, search Newsflash by “health care.” For a copy of Wal-Mart’s health plan benefits offered to its current workers, contact [email protected]