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BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Setting out to prove its critics wrong, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. said yesterday it plans to open more than 50 in-store health clinics this year and make further changes to workers' health-care plans, in a bid to address the country's rising health care costs.
Wal-Mart will contract with outside firms to build and operate more than 50 new health clinics in Wal-Mart stores nationwide this year. Currently, Wal-Mart has a total of nine pilot clinics in stores in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, and Indiana. The clinics will help meet the basic health needs of both local communities and customers, according to Wal-Mart.
To make its employee health insurance more accessible and affordable, Wal-Mart said it will do the following:
-- Significantly reduce the waiting period for part-time associates;
-- Designate the children of part-time Wal-Mart associates eligible for health coverage as soon as their parent becomes eligible (previously, part-time associates could become eligible only for individual coverage); and
-- Expand the availability of the lowest cost Value Plan option -- $11 per month for individuals and 30 cents more per day for children -- to at least half of all associates by next year.
Wal-Mart's announcement comes on the heels of nine states delivering setbacks to legislation similar to the type of employer mandate the Maryland General Assembly made law in January. Wal-Mart c.e.o. Lee Scott will discuss the initiatives in further detail at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. this Sunday.
"During our most recent open enrollment period, we signed up more than 70,000 associates who didn't have our health insurance before. Fifty thousand of those working men and women were previously uninsured. And this is just a start," said Scott in prepared comments that will be made during the meeting. "In the weeks ahead, we're going to take significant steps to make our health benefits even more affordable and accessible to the working families we employ."
In his speech, Scott will call for government and business to work together for solutions to the health care challenges facing the country, as he has done in the past. "The soaring cost of health care in America cannot be sustained over the long term by any business that offers health benefits to its employees. And every day that we don't work together to solve this challenge is a day that our country becomes even less competitive in the global economy," Scott said in his prepared comments. "We have to solve the health care challenges facing America. We have to do it together. And we have to start now."
WakeUpWalMart.com, a union-led movement that has routinely criticized Wal-Mart for its health care policies and other issues, said in a statement that the world's largest retailer isn't doing enough to address employee benefits.
"Unfortunately, Wal-Mart's c.e.o. Lee Scott still doesn't get it," said Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com. "While Wal-Mart's proposed changes to their health care plan are certainly long overdue, and we certainly support expanding benefits to part-timers, the Wal-Mart health care crisis infecting America cannot be solved by publicity stunts. Wal-Mart's proposed changes are clearly designed to try and salvage a faltering public image, rather than make substantive changes to improve health care benefits for its employees."
WakeUpWalMart.com has issued a new report, "America Pays, Wal-Mart Saves," in which it claims that Wal-Mart's attempts over the last year to tell the American people it is improving health care is nothing more than a facade. The report suggests that the "Wal-Mart health care crisis," as the group calls it, is actually getting worse, not better.