"Welfare State"? Will Has It Backwards

Thursday, January 19, 2006

"Welfare State"? Will Has It Backwards

Commenting on a bill recently passed by Maryland legislators, columnist George Will thinks that pushing Wal-Mart to provide basic, employer-paid health insurance for its workforce is an attempt to turn the retailer into "a welfare state."

Will is very selective with his facts. In today's column, for example, he writes that Wal-Mart:
... offers 18 plans, one with $11 monthly premiums and another with $3 co-payments.
But it's interesting that Will doesn't mention the deductibles for these plans. According to the coalition called Wake-Up Wal-Mart, deductibles are hefty: "Wal-Mart’s most affordable plan includes a $1,000 deductible for single coverage and a $3,000 deductible for family coverage ($1,000 deductible per person covered up to $3,000). An average full-time worker earns $17,114 a year. "

In other words, under the retailer's family coverage, the typical full-time employee must shell out $3,000 -- more than 17% of their annual pay -- before Wal-Mart starts picking up the tab.

Although Will used the "welfare state" as a pejorative, he seems unaware that Wal-Mart is quite fond of the welfare state. Indeed, the retailer is content to let government programs pick up the tab for its employees' health care.

Last year, reporters in Alabama found that 3,864 children of Wal-Mart employees were being covered by the state's Medicaid program. The company topped the list of retailers whose workers were using Medicaid services. The fact that so many of its employees are seeking public-assistance health care might embarrass some employers, but not Wal-Mart. The company's health benefits are so meager that last April even Wal-Mart executive Lee Scott acknowledged:
"In some of our states, the public program may actually be a better value -- with relatively high income limits to qualify, and low premiums."
It's no wonder that in the internal memo leaked last fall, a Wal-Mart official wrote that the retailer is "vulnerable" to criticism that its employees overrely on public assistance and called health coverage "the most pressing reputation issue facing Wal-Mart."

You can say that again.

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