Mar 07 2013
California officials face mounting criticism from union leaders over plans to let retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. enroll shoppers in President Obama’s healthcare expansion.
The state wants employees at Wal-Mart and other retailers to help consumers learn about their options and assist them in buying federally subsidized private insurance. These plans are part of state efforts to implement the federal healthcare law and reach out to 5 million Californians eligible for new coverage starting in January.
Labor unions as well as some consumer advocates protest the idea of government officials partnering with Wal-Mart and paying for its help. They contend that the nation’s largest retailer has no place advising others on health coverage when so many of its workers don’t qualify for company benefits and end up in taxpayer-funded programs such as Medi-Cal.
“We are appalled and offended that the exchange would contemplate partnering with Wal-Mart and other retailers notorious for failing to provide health benefits to many of their workers and providing substandard benefits to the workers who do qualify,” said James Araby, executive director of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union’s Western States Council. “That is highly contradictory to the mission of the program.”
Wal-Mart defended its employee benefits and said they exceed what the retail industry generally offers. A spokesman for Wal-Mart said it supports the state’s efforts, but it would be premature to discuss any partnerships.
Even some of Wal-Mart’s critics say these complaints are misguided because the opportunity to reach huge numbers of the uninsured while they’re shopping is too good to pass up. California is ahead of other states in implementing the Affordable Care Act, and this fight over retailers’ role could portend future battles across the country.