Covered California Faces Criticism Over Plan To Partner With Wal-Mart
Covered California -- the state's health insurance exchange -- is facing criticism over a plan to allow Wal-Mart to enroll individuals in the health plans offered through the new insurance marketplace, the Los Angeles Times reports (Terhune, Los Angeles Times, 3/7).
The Affordable Care Act requires states to launch online insurance marketplaces by 2014. California's exchange primarily will serve individuals and small businesses.
Supporters hope that the exchange will function similar to websites like Amazon and Expedia so that users will be able to choose between various health plans through an easily navigable online store.
The exchange is expected to open for registration in October (California Healthline, 3/6).
Criticisms of Plan
Covered California officials want employees at Wal-Mart and other retailers to help individuals learn about and purchase health plans offered through the state health insurance exchange.
However, labor unions and consumer advocates oppose the idea, arguing that Wal-Mart and similar retailers should not advise others on health coverage when many of their workers do not qualify for employer-sponsored health insurance and instead receive benefits through Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program.
James Araby -- executive director of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union's Western States Council -- said, "We are appalled and offended that the exchange would contemplate partnering with Wal-Mart and other retailers notorious for failing to provide health benefits to many of their workers and providing substandard benefits to the workers who do qualify."
Sara Flocks -- public policy coordinator at the California Labor Federation -- said, "Wal-Mart is one of the problems health reform is trying to fix," adding that the company "is the driving force behind taking insurance away from Californians."
In response to criticisms, Wal-Mart defended its employee health benefits and said that they exceed what many retailers typically offer their workers. A spokesperson for Wal-Mart said that it is too early to discuss a partnership with the exchange.
On Wednesday, labor leaders met with Covered California officials with a goal of developing requirements for retailers that partner with the exchange to ensure they are providing comprehensive health benefits for workers.
Union leaders said they will pursue legislation if they cannot reach an agreement with exchange officials.
Peter Lee -- executive director of Covered California -- said, "We are not changing our overall retail strategy, and it would be a distraction to have legislation about setting different standards for who the exchange can work with."Lee added that the ACA "will put penalties on large employers that don't provide adequate coverage" and that "[i]t is not the job of Covered California to be the enforcement mechanism for that" (Los Angeles Times, 3/7). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.