Participation in Wal-Mart Health Plans Reaches 50%
More than half, or 50.2%, of the 1.4 million Wal-Mart employees in the U.S. last fall enrolled in health plans sponsored by the company, compared with 47% a year earlier, a "milestone for the retailer long criticized as offering unaffordable benefits," the New York Times reports (Barbaro, New York Times, 1/23).
According to Wal-Mart officials, 43% of employees receive health insurance from other sources, such as the health plans of their spouses or 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.
Dillman said, "We can see that the improvements we've made are being embraced by our associates and their families." However, she said that the number of Wal-Mart employees who lack health insurance remains "too high," adding that "we really want to understand what is the barrier preventing them from moving onto our plans" (New York Times, 1/23).
Wal-Mart Watch, a group funded by the Service Employees International Union to monitor the company, also raised concerns about the number of employees who lack health insurance. David Nassar, executive director of the group, said, "Wal-Mart needs to focus its attention on making substantive changes to its plans rather than manipulating numbers to tell the public relations story it wants" (Washington Post, 1/23).