Wal-Mart backs healthcare mandate

Associated Press / July 1, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Wal-Mart has embraced President Obama’s call for requiring all large employers to offer health insurance to their workers, adding momentum to the president’s push for far-reaching changes to the nation’s healthcare system.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest private employer, disclosed its position in a letter to congressional and administration officials yesterday. It was joined by a major labor union that has criticized Wal-Mart as stingy with employee benefits.

“We are for an employer mandate which is fair and broad in its coverage,’’ the letter said. “Any alternative to an employer mandate should not create barriers to hiring entry-level employees.’’

That was a reference to some proposals in Congress to have employers pay the Medicaid costs of new hires. Critics say that would discourage the hiring of low-income people.

The letter was also signed by Andrew L. Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has more than a million members and counts more US health workers than any other union. Also signing it was John Podesta, who headed Obama’s transition team.

The letter could give a push to two efforts: Wal-Mart’s bid to improve its image regarding worker treatment, and Obama’s plan to change the nation’s healthcare system, including insuring virtually all Americans and controlling costs.

In the past, Wal-Mart was criticized for charging high premiums for health insurance and having employees wait up to two years for coverage. Wal-Mart said 94 percent of its employees now have insurance.