NRF and Wal-Mart Stores at Odds Over Healthcare Reform

Discussion
Jul 14, 2009

By George Anderson

Healthcare reform is a major issue for retailing
just as it is for most of America. But, devilish details have a way of
thwarting progress as parties suggest that compromise is needed – just
as long as their side is not doing the compromising.

The latest dustup in healthcare reform debate
within the retailing industry has Walmart and organized labor on one side
(no joke) and the National Retail Federation on the other.

Late last month, Wal-Mart Stores came out
and endorsed one of the proposals bouncing around Capitol Hill that would
mandate companies of a certain size to provide healthcare coverage to employees.

In a letter to President Obama, Leslie
Dach, executive vice president, corporate affairs and government relations
for Wal-Mart, wrote, “The present system is not
sustainable. The status quo is not an option.”

He added, “We believe in shared responsibility
and support an employer mandate that is broad and fair. We believe the
mandate should cover as many businesses as possible, and cover part-time
as well as full-time employees.”

Yesterday, Tracy Mullin, president and CEO
of the National Retail Federation (NRF), criticized Wal-Mart (not a member
of the group) for pushing for mandates on employers, saying passage of
such legislation would be “catastrophic for our industry.”

According to Ms. Mullin, “Mandates would drive
up costs for retailers while doing nothing to address waste, inefficiencies
and lack of competition. Ultimately, employers forced to spend more on
insurance would have little choice but to reduce payrolls or raise prices
– and that’s the last thing retail employees or shoppers need right now.”

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, of
which Wal-Mart is a member, released a statement by its senior vice president
of government affairs, John G. Emling, that said, "Although
we have not expressly opposed a mandate that every employer offer a minimum
level of health insurance, we are highly skeptical of a one-size-fits-all
approach that could create barriers to hiring entry level employees.”

Discussion
Questions: Is doing nothing on healthcare something retail businesses
can afford? What are your thoughts on mandates on employers to provide
coverage?

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14 Comments on "NRF and Wal-Mart Stores at Odds Over Healthcare Reform"


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David Livingston
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

I don’t think the government should ever mandate any business to provide health care. Offering health care is a benefit provided in order to attract good employees. Perhaps we need a public single payer system along with private insurance. Employees could choose to pay into a public single payer system or perhaps pay a little more for a higher quality private plan, if available.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 10 months ago

IF health care were an ingredient in competitive retailing, then the largest and most profitable company would probably benefit if its competitors were forced to absorb additional costs which would make them less competitive at the cash register. IF that premise creates dots to be filled in, please feel free to connect them to your persuasion.

David Dorf
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Why is it so shocking that Walmart would take a stand in favor of their employees? Being for healthcare and against unions is not at odds at all. Healthcare is a basic necessity that should not be impacted by supply-and-demand. Wages, on the other hand, should be allowed to fluctuate above the minimum. While I’m not sure of the right solution, I do agree that the status quo is not acceptable.

Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Being from Canada, this really isn’t an issue here (not saying though that our health care system is ideal). The point I want to make is that all businesses, not just retailers, need to take an active role and stance in important issues like this. All too often, businesses complain on the sidelines without getting involved. Speak up and let your views be known on this, and every other issue. Don’t let somebody else decide your future.

Marge Laney
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

I also am against the government mandate of health insurance on business. I do, however, believe that companies should offer employee health coverage and to a large extent they do. The portion of our healthcare system that needs fixing is Medicare which is a huge problem already and about to become totally out of control with the Boomers coming online. I hear nothing about that and everything about the 50 million people who are uninsured. I say let’s take a measured approach and fix Medicare, a program the government is already running. Once they’ve proven they can run that efficiently and cost-effectively, maybe then we might think about giving them a little more to run.

And one other thing, how about let’s mandate that Congress NOT be exempt from their own legislation on healthcare that they impose upon the rest of us.

Lauren Kaplan
Guest
Lauren Kaplan
11 years 10 months ago

I completely agree with Kevin. EVERY business needs to take an active stance or it will remain business as usual–rising and unaffordable health care for the employer and employee. I also believe competition and limits on what insurance companies are allowed to make in terms of profit are good starts to solving this mess we’ve created.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

As Wal-Mart says, the current system is unsustainable. For health insurance companies to continue to grow, the only alternative they have is to assure that health costs go up. However, a mandate to businesses is not the answer.

Unfortunately, the only answer is to eliminate healthcare as an expense for business all together. Even if it means an increase in taxes for a government program, those taxes, after eliminating the administrative costs and profit contribution by the health insurance companies, will be less than the business’ current cost for employee health insurance.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

America’s current healthcare system–which forces disincentives for prevention, focuses most spending on the last 6 months of life, and shifts spending on the poor to the employers who provide coverage–is unsustainable. It should be abundantly obvious that we, as a country, must coalesce behind a coherent and forward-thinking new structure. It’s ironic that NRF, in rebuffing the employer mandate approach, seems to be endorsing a single-payer paradigm by default.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
11 years 10 months ago

You can hide your head in the sand and let someone else make the decisions that affect your future, but that’s not the way to go and Wal-Mart knows it. Their attitude is that reform is coming and they might as well be in on the action so they might be able to shape some of the changes in their favor.

It’s like the Godfather said: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Neil Trautwein
Guest
Neil Trautwein
11 years 10 months ago

The National Retail Federation (NRF) strongly supports comprehensive health care reform leading to universal coverage–but also opposes any kind of employer mandate (including “free rider” mandates) as well as single-payer health care. Contradiction? Of course not! We can get to a fair system that works for retail and retail employees without mandating that employers provide and pay for health care. You’ll find our solution in the NRF Vision for Health Care Reform.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

NRF needs to look at taking a different approach to the problem of healthcare. I am not sure what the approach is but out of one side of their mouth the NRF talks about being an employer of choice and out of the other side they talk about being against healthcare reform. I don’t even have to wonder why the public does not look at retail as a great place to work.

It is time for the NRF to stop being against something and figure out what they can be for when it comes to health insurance. Everyone agrees that the US system is broken. So let all of the great minds at NRF come up with a plan that they can support and sell to the public, their employees, and the government.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 10 months ago

What’s most interesting to me is the split between the biggest retailer on the block and the rest of the industry. While I think Walmart is genuinely interested in improving its employee-relations reputation, any healthcare mandate would likely adversely impact Walmart far less than its competitors. Walmart has always been about commanding market share, and anything that impacts their competitors negatively more than it does them helps Walmart acquire greater share.

James Tenser
Guest
11 years 10 months ago
I remain astonished at the lack of vision evident in this crucial national debate. It has descended into a power struggle between big labor and the pharmaceuticals/health insurers cabal. Labor demands a handout, while the drug and insurance firms want to extend their license to fleece the nation. Neither stance is healthy for Americans. Large employers rightfully fret about costly mandates while politicians contort themselves to avoid alienating two of their richest lobbies. My blood boils when we are presented with a false choice–between a single-payer system run by our government and a private system run rampant. I say there should be a third option with these basic features: 1) National risk pool/no exclusions. Here’s where the Federal Government gets involved, by setting up a national health care reinsurance pool that all health insurers must participate in if they want a license to operate. As a condition, insurers may exclude nobody, regardless of preexisting condition or cost of their care. 2) Mandatory participation. Every American must participate, no exceptions, like auto insurance, with minimum coverage… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

If a major goal is to have health care available for all, it seems as though the discussion is about the best way to share the costs. Businesses can help pay the cost along with employees, along with a government plan for those not employed or a government plan to cover everyone that individuals and companies fund. Either way, everyone is going to have to participate in funding the program. The issues are how to do the funding and what level of choice of plans will individuals have.

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