Wal-Mart battles health bill

BENTONVILLE, AR: In speeches, interviews, and opinion pieces, Wal-Mart is stressing that the so-called Fair Share Healthcare bills that are pending in several state legislatures won't increase access to medical insurance.

BENTONVILLE, AR: In speeches, interviews, and opinion pieces, Wal-Mart is stressing that the so-called Fair Share Healthcare bills that are pending in several state legislatures won't increase access to medical insurance.

Those bills, modeled after a law that recently passed in Maryland, require companies with more than 10,000 employees to spend a certain percentage (in Maryland, at least 8%) of their payroll funding on either their own or state-funded insurance programs.

The bills have seen momentum because of rapidly rising Medicaid costs, as well as heavy campaigning from union groups such as the AFL-CIO.

Nate Hurst, Wal-Mart's director of public affairs, noted that the company's outreach has been focused on telling legislators and reporters about other ways to increase access to health insurance. It is emphasizing, for instance, that editorial boards have generally opposed the bills.

"We need solutions that make healthcare more affordable and accessible," Hurst said. "These bills... do nothing to take people off America's uninsured list."

 In a speech at the National Governors Association's winter meeting, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott unveiled changes to the company's healthcare benefits and called on the government to work with business leaders to expand access to insurance.

Hurst added that Wal-Mart is also communicating to employees internally about changes to its benefits.

The AFL-CIO couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

In a statement, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said, "It's wrong that large corporations - like Wal-Mart - weasel out of their duty to provide health insurance for their employees and shift those healthcare costs onto others, much like deadbeat dads."

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