Half Of Wal-Mart Employees Enrolled In Company Health Insurance Plan

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More than half, or 50.2%,of the 1.4 million Wal-Mart employees in the U.S. last fall enrolled in healthplans sponsored by the company, compared with 47% a year earlier, a"milestone for the retailer long criticized as offering unaffordablebenefits," the New York Times reports (Barbaro, New YorkTimes, 1/23). According to Wal-Mart officials, 43% of employees receivehealth insurance from other sources, such as the health plans of their spousesor Medicare (Mui, Washington Post, 1/23).

About 7% of Wal-Mart employees lack health insurance, compared with about 10% a year earlier, company officials said (Zimmerman, Wall Street Journal, 1/23). They added that about 30,000 Wal-Mart employees who previously lacked health insurance last fall enrolled in health plans sponsored by the company (New York Times, 1/23). Linda Dillman, executive vice president of benefits and risk management at Wal-Mart, also cited a small decrease in the number of employees enrolled in public health insurance programs this year, although the percentage remained about the same (AP/Baltimore Sun, 1/23).

Last year, Wal-Mart began to offer a health plan that allows employees to select from annual deductibles that range from $350 to $2,000, with monthly premiums that begin at $250 and increase for lower deductibles. The plan also allows Wal-Mart employees to make copayments of $4 for 2,400 generic medications. In addition, Wal-Mart reduced the waiting period before new part-time employees can enroll in health plans sponsored by the company from two years to one year.

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Dillman said, "We cansee that the improvements we've made are being embraced by our associates andtheir families." However, she said that the number of Wal-Mart employeeswho lack health insurance remains "too high," adding that "wereally want to understand what is the barrier preventing them from moving ontoour plans."

Company officials said that Wal-Mart's health care costs are expected to riseby single digits this year, a slower rate than in previous years and less thanthe industry average. Dillman linked the slower growth to the increase in thenumber of insured workers, who are more likely to receive care before they arein critical condition. "It's costing them and us less money," shesaid, adding, "It's the way the model is supposed to work" (NewYork Times, 1/23).

Wal-Mart Watch, a group funded by the Service Employees International Union to monitor the company, also raised concernsabout the number of employees who lack health insurance. David Nassar,executive director of the group, said, "Wal-Mart needs to focus itsattention on making substantive changes to its plans rather than manipulatingnumbers to tell the public relations story it wants" (WashingtonPost, 1/23).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.

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