April 15, 2006
By RITU KALRA, Courant Staff Writer
The nationwide campaign to force Wal-Mart and other large employers to provide better health coverage for their workers started the year with a strong tailwind, but with defeat after defeat in state after state, it may be losing its momentum.
This week, Connecticut became the latest state to deal the initiative a major blow.
Called "Fair Share" health care - though informally dubbed the "Wal-Mart bill" and known in a previous incarnation as "pay-or-play" - Connecticut's measure would have forced retailers that have 5,000 or more workers in the state to pay at least $2.50 per hour per worker for health insurance, or pay into a state-controlled fund.
The bill, similar in concept to measures introduced in about 30 states, died in the finance committee Tuesday, where it was never called to a vote. Although possible, it is unlikely that the measure will be revived during the rest of the legislative session, which ends May 3.
The measure's opponents say they are not surprised by the bill's early demise. Although the year began with a much-trumpeted victory when the Maryland legislature overrode a governor's veto of the bill, similar Fair Share measures have now been defeated or withdrawn in at least 10 other states.
"I can tell you that state legislators on both sides of the aisle are taking a closer look at these employer mandates and realizing they're more about politics than health care," said Kelly Hobbs, a Wal-Mart spokesperson. "This proposal doesn't do anything to lower health care costs, it doesn't take one person off the uninsured list and it could actually be a deterrent for businesses to either hire new employees or expand their operations in the state."
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association hailed the measure's death as helping to improve the corporate community's image of the state.
"Just as much as we had negative repercussions from last year's pay-or-play bill and the fact that it was around until the last day of session, defeating it this year before the session's close is an extremely positive event," said Eric George, CBIA's legislative analyst.
Proponents, upset by the defeat, nevertheless vowed to continue fighting against the pervasive decline in employer-sponsored health coverage.
"We're obviously disappointed that the bill didn't get as far as we would have liked it to this year, but we spawned a really good dialogue about health care reform," said Beverly Brakeman, director of Citizens for Economic Opportunity, an advocacy group. "There's been a lot of good momentum to come out of the bill. And we're going to keep building our momentum around it. We're in this for the long haul."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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