Once again, Wal-Mart has turned up at the top of a list they don’t want to be on. A study released last week by the Iowa Department of Human Services reports that Wal-Mart had 845 of its workers receiving Medicaid health care benefits paid for by Iowa taxpayers. Wal-Mart has strenuously denied that it counsels its workers how to sign up for public benefits, but the results of such surveys show that with or without company guidance, Wal-Mart workers find their way to public health programs. This means that state taxpayers relieve Wal-Mart of having to provide health care for these workers and their dependents. Medicaid is a state/federal joint program created in 1965 to provide a health coverage safety net for poor people. Although the program is not traditionally considered a program for working people, the companies who don’t provide health insurance, or who provide inadequate health insurance, often leave their workers with no choice but to seek tax-supported programs. According to the Associated Press story, Wal-Mart is in much better financial shape than Iowa. The state is facing a $170 million deficit in its Medicaid budget over the next year and a half, and the state is considering making cutbacks in eligibility requirements and services. Wal-Mart claims that 5% of its workforce is on Medicaid, which means somewhere around 75,000 of its U.S. employees. The retailer said it could not verify the Iowa Medicaid numbers, “but as the nation’s largest employer we will almost by default be the largest on many types of lists,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said. Wal-Mart’s 845 workers on Medicaid by far surpassed the second largest company, Tyson Foods, which had 388 workers on Medicaid. Legislation has been filed in the Iowa state legislature that would require the state to print an annual report on employers whose workers most often seek public aid. State Senator Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said the legislation would allow the state to see how many of the employees on Medicaid were part-time or full-time. ‘‘If Wal-Mart has full-time employees that are on Medicaid, that’s outrageous,” Bolkcom told the AP. ‘‘This is a company making billions of dollars in profit a year with their low prices, but they also have a concurrent responsibility to not foist off the health care costs of their employees on Iowa taxpayers.” This latest state report was performed at the request of the Governor’s office. The Department of Human Services simply matched the social security numbers of Iowans on Medicaid with those submitted by employers to the office of Workforce Development. The year studied ran from October 1, 2003 to October 1, 2004.
Wal-Mart says that it offers its workers individual health coverage for $38 a month, or $153 monthly for a family. That means a family plan would cost $1,836 a year, for the average worker who makes roughly $17,570 before taxes ($9.90 an hour). But a family plan also comes with a $1,050 deductible, with families paying coinsurance up to a maximum of $3,500 per year. A worker can buy a plan with a higher deductible of $3,000 for a family, and faces $10,000 in out of pocket expenses. These plans are described by Wal-Mart as being “catastrophic” coverage only. A spokesperson at an Iowa hospital explained, ‘‘It isn’t that these companies don’t offer health insurance. It’s that they offer minimum wage jobs and the employees can’t afford health insurance.” For results of similar studies in Massachusetts, West Virginia, Tennessee, California and Georgia, search this database by “health insurance” or “welfare”.