An internal study by Wal-Mart released today says that almost half of its employees don’t use the health care plan they offer.
This requires some explanation of exactly what they offer – or, more accurately, don’t offer – along with a little translating of Wal-Mart’s spokeswoman’s, um, analysis.
About 90 percent of Wal-Mart employees have health-care coverage, but 43 percent do not get it from the mammoth retailer, relying instead on benefits from a spouse, federal programs or even their parents, according to an internal survey the company made public yesterday.Wal-Mart employs more than 1.3 million people in the United States, making it one of the country’s largest employers. The company surveyed more than 200,000 workers during the fall open-enrollment period for health benefits, the retailer’s first effort to capture such data as it faces criticism from labor unions that accuse it of paying low wages and skimping on health benefits.
According to the report, 22 percent of employees receive health benefits under a spouse’s plan. Nearly 5 percent are on Medicare. Four percent are insured through their parents, school or college. About 2 percent are covered by Medicaid, and another 1 percent use an alternate state program.
The reasons for this are very simple: Wal-Mart’s health insurance plan is a joke. It’s true that it doesn’t cost very much. It’s also true that it doesn’t cover very much. Practically nothing. There’s no drug benefit, it would pay only a fraction of the cost of a hospital room if anything at all, most surgical procedures are excluded, as are the infamous “pre-existing conditions”, and job-related injuries are shuffled over to Workman’s Comp. WM’s employees would do better to buy one of the scam-plans that land in their email spam. And despite how little it covers, the co-pay is roughly the same as that of legitimate health care plans.
WM, which had to be bludgeoned into offering the plan in the first place, set its sights so low that the result had to have been (as I wrote last year at The Revolution) deliberate. They must have been aiming at something that would keep their employees from buying it unless they were desperate (something is better than nothing, I suppose). Today, their spokeswoman admitted as much.
“I don’t believe that our goal is ever to convince someone to move off of Medicare or their retirement plan . . . to Wal-Mart health-care coverage,” said Linda M. Dillman, who oversees risk management and benefits for the retailer. “Our goal is to ensure our associates have access to health care and that it’s affordable.” (emphasis added)
It can be pretend health care as long as it’s “affordable”.
The whole point of the WM health care plan is not “to ensure our associates have access to health care”, it’s to get critics off their backs and undercut a prime argument of unions trying to sign up WM’s employees. From their POV, they only need the appearance of a health plan, not the substance. A substantial health plan might, after all, cost them a few bucks. Their solution was to create a monstrosity that offers so little that only very poor people with no access to care via any other route would find it attractive. The company would prefer that the burden of their employees’ health costs be paid by other insurers or the govt – anybody but they themselves.
Which is actually Wal-Mart’s general strategy in a lot of other areas, too. They keep a lot of their costs down by shifting them onto local and state governments. They can get away with paying their employees so little because many of them are eligible for some form of poverty assistance; they use their economic muscle to browbeat cities and towns into paying for roads into their stores, sewer and electric service, even trash disposal. Every $ of normal business costs that they can shift to taxpayers is another $ they can put in their pockets, and the morality of it be damned.
Wal-Mart remains the corporatocracy’s poster-child of unconscionable profit-boosting by any means possible, even if laws and ethical standards have to be routinely violated to do it. To borrow a phrase of Michael Moore’s, WM’s so-called health care plan is “some kind of make-believe, Barbi-Land health care” that promises much and delivers nothing.