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    Wal-Mart Intros Plan of Expanded Benefits for Employees

    WASHINGTON -- Wal-Mart said it is altering its health care policy to be more employee-friendly, and is urging other retailers to follow suit.

    WASHINGTON -- Wal-Mart said it is altering its health care policy to be more employee-friendly, and is urging other retailers to follow suit.

    In a speech yesterday at the World Health Care Congress here, Susan Chambers, e.v.p. of the people division of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., outlined the key changes Wal-Mart is making, including decreasing co-pays from $10 to $3 on generic medications for common conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and infections; expanding health benefits to children of part-time associates; and reducing by half the waiting period for part-time associate eligibility. The eligibility requirements for full-time associates will not change, she added.

    "Keep in mind that covering part-time employees is not the norm," Chambers said in her speech. "But every American deserves healthcare, and we want to lead by taking this step. We hope that others in the retail community will work with us to do the same."

    Chambers said that the company's commitment to associates is so important that it will hold a special enrollment period in mid-May, in addition to the traditional October enrollment. The reduced waiting period for part-time associates and the extension of coverage to their children will make more than 150,000 part-time associates eligible for initial or enhanced coverage during the special enrollment period, she said.

    Wal-Mart said that on May 13 it will effect policy changes that will reduce the waiting period by half for part-time associates, and offer health coverage for children of all eligible Wal-Mart full-time and part-time associates.

    It will also:

    -- Expand the list of $3 generic prescriptions, previously offered at $10, for common conditions in January 2007;
    -- Offer discounts of approximately 20 percent on prescription drugs otherwise not covered on the health plan in January 2007;
    -- Expand the availability of the Value Plan option at $11 per month for individuals and $9 more per month for children to nearly half of all associates by the end of the year;
    -- Enhance the company's contribution to health savings accounts by providing a contribution of up to $1,200 and an additional match of up to $1,200, beginning in January 2007;
    -- Provide a 10 percent associate discount on healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, in Wal-Mart stores and Sam's Clubs.

    Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com and a persistent critic of the retailer's policies, labeled the plan as yet another publicity stunt. "The health care crisis at Wal-Mart continues to get worse, not better. Today, Wal-Mart fails to provide company health care to 57 percent of its workforce, or 775,000 employees and their families, up from 52 percent a year ago," he said. "If you couple Wal-Mart's changes for part-time workers with the company's already announced cuts to full-time workers, Wal-Mart's changes are not likely to provide health care to one additional worker."

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