BEATING UP ON WAL-MART
January 13, 2006
American businesses love to cast Wal-Mart in the role of villain, but a new Maryland law might actually make the big-box retailer a victim, says the Washington Post.
The bill -- which forces firms with more than 10,000 in-state employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payrolls on workers' health insurance plans or make compensatory payments to the state -- only affects Wal-Mart, since the state's three other qualifying employers already met or exceed the 8 percent threshold, says the Post.
The bill was passed by the Democrat-dominated state legislature, and vetoed by Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R). However, lawmakers, urged on by big unions, overrode the veto. According to the Post, legislators claim they are not singling out Wal-Mart but are merely setting a standard. Legislators also claim that Wal-Mart, because it's so large, bears a special obligation to set a good example. However:
- Hundreds of smaller companies in Maryland that fail to meet the 8 percent threshold are untouched by the legislation -- and the total number of their uninsured employees may be a greater drain on the state's health system than Wal-Mart.
- Wal-Mart employees, like the employees of other large retailers that employ many low-wage workers, are only slightly more likely to collect Medicaid benefits than the national average, says the Post.
- Nevertheless, the legislation has prompted imitators in at least 30 states.
While skyrocketing health care costs and the growing ranks of uninsured workers represent a burden on the Maryland's health system, but in trying to address the national problems of health care and uninsured workers, lawmakers in Maryland and other states could inflict on themselves a new set of problems while failing to solve the underlying one, says the Post.
Source: Editorial, "Beating Up on Wal-Mart," Washington Post, January 12, 2006.
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