Critics investigating its policies found that Georgia taxpayers picked up the health-care costs for approximately 10,000 children of Wal-Mart workers in that state because they couldn't afford or get coverage through the company. Wal-Mart's own internal study found that because nearly 30 percent of its employees were insured through spouses' plans or under government programs, the Big Blue Store was in effect "dumping" its workers on others.
But now that is apparently about to change. To the astonishment of its former allies in the fight against companies providing coverage — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation — Wal-Mart has come out in favor of President Obama's proposal that will require large companies to offer affordable health insurance to its workers.
Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, sent a letter to congressional leaders and the Obama administration that was co-signed by former critics from the Center for American Progress and the Service Employees International Union. In that letter, Wal-Mart said the company is "for an employer mandate which is fair and broad in its coverage." In apparent reference to plans in Congress that would require employers to pay Medicaid costs of new hires, it also added that "any alternative to the employer mandate should not create barriers to hiring entry-level employees."
Wal-Mart, the former "dumper," surely does not want to become the "dumpee," and with approximately 1.4 million U.S. workers who will come under whatever plan it adopts, that could happen. It's natural, then, that Wal-Mart is for what it termed "shared responsibility," for, as the letter pointed out, "not every business can make the same contribution, but everyone must make some contribution."
This is a major step in the right direction, although figures differ as to how many Wal-Mart employees are provided health coverage under the company's existing plan. If the Obama initiative gains the support of such companies — and if what passes Congress leads to affordable health care for the people these companies employ — Wal-Mart will have done more for this nation than offer good quality at reasonable prices.
Wal-Mart will have helped address one of America's greatest challenges.