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Wal-Mart Faults Health Insurance Idea

Says Proposal That Would Set Minimum Spending Level In State Doesn't Reduce Costs

February 17, 2006
By RITU KALRA, Courant Staff Writer

Wal-Mart's public relations machine fired an opening salvo Thursday against a proposal that would require the retailing giant to spend more on employee health benefits.

In a two-page "periodic fact sheet" that was sent to some state legislators, businesses and media, Wal-Mart criticized the proposal as poor public policy that imposes "arbitrary mandates" on employers while failing to reduce spiraling health care costs.

The proposal, which will probably be introduced by the co-chairmen of the General Assembly's labor committee later this session, is similar in concept to a bill aimed squarely at Wal-Mart that recently passed in Maryland.

Comparable measures suffered defeat in New Hampshire and Washington earlier this week.

Called "fair share" health care, Connecticut's measure would require employers with more than 5,000 employees to spend a minimum amount on employee health coverage or pay into a state fund to help defray the costs borne by taxpayers to support the uninsured.

Wal-Mart's two-page memo criticized the proposal, in part, for its narrow reach.

The retailer has about 9,500 employees in the state, a large portion of whom do not receive the employer's health coverage.

Connecticut, meanwhile, has an estimated 196,000 to 382,000 uninsured residents.

Considering the total number of people without health coverage in the state, the memo said, "the measure neglects the thousands of uninsured Connecticuters who don't work at Wal-Mart."

Supporters of the proposal agreed, but cautioned that that logic shouldn't let Wal-Mart off the hook. The retailer tops a state list of companies whose employees rely on Connecticut's HUSKY health program, at a cost of $5.4 million a year.

Nationwide, less than half of Wal-Mart workers receive company health insurance, and 46 percent of its employees' children are either uninsured or on public assistance.

"Here's a company that's using taxpayer dollars as part of their business plan so they don't have to pay for health care for a significant portion of their workers," said House Majority Leader Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden. "They should set a higher example."

From Wal-Mart's perspective, however, the measure misses the point.

"We clearly agree that health care is an issue in our country, but we feel that bills like this do very little to solve what is a much larger problem," said Daphne Moore, Wal-Mart's director of public affairs.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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