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Wal-Mart's employee healthcare plan "too expensive"

By Sheilah Downey

While mega-retailer Wal-Mart announced yesterday that they supported an employer-funded health care plan, in accordance with the Obama administration's proposal, only 51.8 percent of the estimated 1.4 million Wal-Mart employees currently have taken the mega-retailer up on their health care offer.

"It's too expensive," said 20-year Wal-Mart department manager Jill Terry in an interview today. "It was costing me $400 a month and on my salary, I couldn't do it. Most people who work here can't afford it."

In a letter to President Barack Obama, Bentonville-based Wal-Mart joined with Service Employees International Union, which has more than a million members, and the Center for American Progress in support of a plan to require employers to foot the bill for medical insurance.

"We are for shared responsibility," wrote Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke. "Not every business can make the same contribution, but everyone must make some contribution."

Wal-Mart announced in a February news release that 92.7 percent of its employees had health benefits, while at the same time acknowledging that only 51.8 percent of those employees had opted for Wal-Mart's health package.

Terry, who works as a manager for the retailer at their number one store in Rogers, Ar., said she opted instead for the insurance offered by her husband's place of work because it was 10 times cheaper than the plan offered by Wal-Mart.

WakeUpWalMart, a consumer watch group, says that an average full-time employee has to spend more than 20 percent of their income on the Wal-Mart healthcare plan. 

Eric Bull, of the consumer group, said in an online interview today, while they are encouraged by Wal-Mart's support of the Obama plan, the problem is that most of Wal-Mart's employees make minimum wage salaries.

"The bottom line is that Wal-Mart's health care plans are just not affordable for workers making $7.00, $8.00 and $9.00 an hour. They (Wal-Mart) are supporting an employer mandate - which is encouraging - but we'd be VERY suprised if they were planning to spend any more on their employee's health care than they are expecting to save with the plan's reduced health costs."

Meghan Scott, Director of WakeUpWalMart, said in a news release that the 51.8 percent of employees currently on the WalMart health plan falls far below the national average for large companies.

"While Wal-Mart likes to brag about its new and improved health care plans, the reality is that America's largest private employer is leaving thousands of its workers without insurance and forcing thousands more to depend on state aid."