Wal-Mart Making Benefits More Affordable
By George Anderson
Wal-Mart is introducing a new health care plan with lower premiums and higher deductibles to give its workers more options when it comes to looking after their and their families
The new plan with premiums as low as $11 a month will have a deductible of $1,000 for individuals. Premiums under the new plan will cost between 40 percent and 60 percent less
than under existing coverage offered by the company.
In addition to the new insurance option, Wal-Mart employees will now also be able to take part in the company’s health savings account called the Value Plan, which allows employees
with high deductible health plans (HDHP) to set aside funds on a tax-free basis to pay for medical expenses.
Wal-Mart takes this action after years of criticism over the health care benefits it extends to employees. Fewer than 50 percent of Wal-Mart’s employees are currently covered
under the company’s health plans.
Wal-Mart spokesperson, Dan Fogleman, told The New York Times that the company made the change after listening to the concerns of its associates.
Howard Berliner, a professor of health policy at the New School for Social Research, offered his assessment of the new Wal-Mart coverage. “Is it the greatest health care plan
in the world? Probably not, but my concern is getting people health insurance so they can get health care when they need it. In that sense, anything that speeds that goal is for
Uwe E. Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton University, said Wal-Mart’s new health benefit option removes “a big financial barrier between doctors and patients,” and even
those who find fault with the retailer will “have trouble attacking this plan.”
Tracy Sefl, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Watch, a coalition of groups critical of the retailer’s practices, said that health savings accounts may seem like a good idea on paper,
but the reality of the low wages earned by the company’s employees means “the majority of their work force will not be well positioned to contribute.”
Charles N. Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, expressed concern about a full-time employee earning less than $19,000 a year being able to handle the cost
of the new plan’s deductible payment.
Moderator’s Comment: What is the reality of the new Wal-Mart health care plan offerings? Most importantly, what will it mean for the company’s employees
and, secondarily, what will it mean for the company’s image? –
George Anderson – Moderator