Wal-Mart has a secret it’s trying desperately to keep in Minnesota. The company is fighting efforts to reveal how many of its “associates” get publicly-supported health care. Lawmakers in Minnesota are considering a bill that would produce a public list of companies whose workers are enrolled in MinnesotaCare, and other government-funded health care programs. According to the Star Tribune newspaper, Wal-Mart recently flew in two company executives to St. Paul to lobby against the bill, which is scheduled to be voted on in special session this month. Wal-Mart also sent a two-page letter describing the company’s health care benefits to every legislator in the state. “This is not health care reform,” Wal-Mart told the newspaper. “This is a campaign against Wal-Mart.” Sen. Becky Lourey, a key sponsor of the bill, believes the public has a right to know which employers have become a drain on the state’s public health care system. They say the bill does not target Wal-Mart per se, but is meant to see how the state can work with companies to provide better health care programs. Last year, state taxpayers paid out $270.2 million for MinnesotaCare, which provides assistance for people who don’t have access to affordable insurance. “If it’s true what people say, that big multinational companies are outsourcing health care to taxpayers, then it would be good to have a handle on which ones,” said Rep. Sheldon Johnson. “It’s just information.” In many other states that have compiled such lists, Wal-Mart has come at or near the top among employers with workers enrolled in state medical assistance. In Wisconsin, the Department of Health and Family Services reported that Wal-Mart employees were at the top of BadgerCare recipients, a state health care program for low-income residents. Legislation has been introduced in Wisconsin that would force big-box retailers to pay the state back for providing the health care needs of their employees. The bill would place a graduated 1% to 2% tax on gross receipts on any store that exceeds $20 million in sales in a taxable year, and that allocates less than 10% of its payroll to health insurance for its employees. The bill applies only if the retailer fails to pay full-time, entry-level employees at least $22,000 a year, or about $10.58 per hour; or if more than 25 percent of the retailer’s workforce is part-time. The revenue would go to the state’s Medical Assistance trust fund. 24 state legislatures nationwide have bills pending that would create lists of employers with large numbers of workers enrolled in public health programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. The group “Wake-Up Wal-Mart” held a series of press conferences in eight states calling on Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott to reimburse state taxpayers for “the tens of millions of dollars used to subsidize Wal-Mart health care.” Wal-Mart complains that because they are one of the largest companies in the state, they will be near the top of Medicaid users, but not all large companies have high numbers of Medicaid recipients. “We’ll be the largest on any list, just because of our size,” Wal-Mart said. In their letter to state legislators, Wal-Mart complained that the Minnesota bill “fails to provide health insurance to anyone and does not take people off America’s uninsured list. It is nothing more than a misguided, destructive assault on a business trying to create 100,000 new jobs this year.” Wal-Mart said in its letter that it actually helps lift employees off the public health care rolls by giving them jobs. 7% of its hourly store employees were on Medicaid three months before joining Wal-Mart, but that dropped to 5% once they joined, the company said in the letter. Wal-Mart estimates that 160,000 people have been taken off the list of public health care programs nationwide by accepting jobs at Wal-Mart. “Please be assured that we do not encourage the use of public assistance, and we do not structure our plans with the idea that there will be a governmental safety net,” Wal-Mart said in the letter.
None of these last claims can be independently verified, because Wal-Mart does not want the data open to inspection. The fact remains, people who put on a Wal-Mart vest often have to take health insurance welfare from taxpayers at the same time. This, in a company boasting 5 of the richest family members in the world. Wal-Mart has been healthy for the Waltons, but the same can not be said for the hourly workers. A family with two or three children and a parent working at Wal-Mart is going to be working below the poverty level, and able to get onto state health plans for the working poor. For more examples of welfare health costs in other states due to Wal-Mart workers, go to www.sprawl-busters.com, click on Newsflash, and search by “health care.”