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Wal-Mart's healthcare policy rapped

Kennedy wants public aid listed

WASHINGTON -- Democratic senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Jon Corzine of New Jersey have proposed a law requiring that states report the names of companies that have 50 or more employees who receive government-funded healthcare.

The bill is intended to spotlight large employers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's biggest retailer, that rely on state aid for employee medical coverage. More than 600,000 of Wal-Mart's 1.26 million US workers get benefits from government programs or through a spouse's employer, the lawmakers said.

''This is the ultimate in turning your back on responsibility to society," Corzine said. ''The numbers are staggering."

Some states are considering laws that would force the biggest employers to pay more for worker healthcare benefits.

Fifteen states, including Florida and California, already require disclosure of employers with large numbers of workers on state programs, the lawmakers said. Florida reported spending $61 million on healthcare for Wal-Mart employees, Kennedy said.

Government aid programs ''should not also have to underwrite the profits for large companies like Wal-Mart," Kennedy said.

Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, the largest US employer, reported net profit of $10.2 billion in the fiscal year ended Jan. 31. It pays an average full-time hourly wage of $10.

Wal-Mart offers eight health plans, with premiums starting at $40 a month for an individual, and doesn't cap most expenses, the company said.

''We encourage transparency as long as the collection of information includes all employers in the US," Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said. ''The issue's much broader than Wal-Mart. Our nation faces a healthcare crisis."

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