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2005-04-06
Annapolis, MD. State Lawmakers Work on (Wal-Mart) Health Care Benefit Law

Legislation widely seen as targeting giant retailers like Wal-Mart, which provide weak health care benefits for its employees, is moving through the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. According to the Washington Post, Maryland lawmakers have passed legislation that would require companies like Wal-Mart to increase its spending on health care. "We're looking for responsible businesses to ante up and provide adequate health care," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), the chairman of the Finance Committee. A similar bill has already passed the Maryland House. The bill requires organizations with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8% of their payroll on health benefits -- or put the money directly into the state's health program for the poor. Wal-Mart has been lobbying against the measure. "We think that this sets a bad precedent by singling out one employer when it's a much bigger issue," said one lobbyist at Wal-Mart. A number of Maryland communities have already passed local ordinances limiting the size of retail stores in their communities, including Calvert, Prince William and Montgomery counties. Maryland's Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) is expected to veto the bill if it comes to his desk. "I don't think this is a bill the governor is inclined to support," a spokesman for the Governor told the Washington Post. Last year, Wal-Mart hosted an Annapolis fundraiser for the Governor, the Post noted. But the Maryland Senate's vote was large enough to override a gubernatorial veto. The Maryland House of Delegates vote last month was one vote short of an override supermajority. "This bill is going to become law with or without Bob Ehrlich," said the Maryland Health Care for All coalition that is pushing the bill. Wal-Mart is not the only corporation with enough workers to trigger the bill, but it is apparently the only company that does not meet the 8% threshold for for-profit employers or the 6% mandated for nonprofits. Wal-Mart reportedly is at 5% of payroll for health care benefits, although the company says it is close to the 8% figure. Wal-Mart says 52% of its workers get health care through their company, yet in close to a dozen state surveys, Wal-Mart workers and their dependents appear as the largest users of public health programs like Medicaid. This means that state and federal taxpayers are splitting the bill for Wal-Mart employees who cannot afford to use the company's health care plan, which the retailer describes as a "catastrophic" plan only.

What you can do: The Maryland bill is a "play or pay" bill that says to a company, "if you don't provide for your own worker's health care coverage, you will have to pay into a fund to help the taxpayer supported programs your workers use." Large companies like Wal-Mart lower their corporate benefit costs by shifting those costs to public tax-supported programs -- a form of corporate welfare that allows companies to maximize their profits at public expense. Similar bills are being considered in a number of states beyond Maryland. Search Newflash by "health benefits" for similar stories.










 
 
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