Insurance Mandate OK: Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart Stores offered what some observers said was surprising support for an employer mandate to be included in health care reform legislation. A letter to President Obama signed by Wal-Mart Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke and leaders of the Service Employees International Union and a progressive think tank, the Center for American Progress, called for reform that includes shared

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Wal-Mart Stores offered what some observers said was surprising support for an “employer mandate” to be included in health care reform legislation.

A letter to President Obama signed by Wal-Mart Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke and leaders of the Service Employees International Union and a progressive think tank, the Center for American Progress, called for reform that includes “shared responsibility” for health coverage in which all businesses would be required to insure workers.

“Not every business can make the same contribution, but everyone must make some contribution,” the letter stated. “We are for an employer mandate which is fair and broad in its coverage.”

In a prepared statement, Wal-Mart also said the employer mandate should cover both part-time and full-time employees, and that reform legislation should include “trigger” provisions that guarantee promised savings in health care costs.

Congressional leaders are currently forging a health care reform package, but the mechanisms for funding coverage are still a topic of debate.

“We are entering a critical time where those of us who will be asked to pay for health care reform will have to make a choice on whether to support this legislation,” said Leslie Dach, executive vice president, corporate affairs and government relations, Wal-Mart. “The choice will require employers to consider the trade-off of a coverage mandate and higher taxes for the promise of a reduction in health care cost increases.”

Retail groups have traditionally opposed an employer mandate. “It's a sour note. They are really out of step with the rest of the business community,” said Neil Trautwien, vice president with the National Retail Federation, in an interview with SN. “This may strengthen the resolve of those who support an employer mandate. It's not helpful to our efforts in the greater health care debate.”

Tom Wenning, executive vice president, National Grocers Association, said NGA also has traditionally opposed employer mandates for health care coverage.

“We are still evaluating what is going to be put in the proposal,” he told SN. “The pieces of this puzzle have still not been put together.

“Right now we are concerned about costs,” he said. “Even if there's not a mandate, we may have escalating costs.”

Food Marketing Institute did not comment specifically on the employer-mandate issue, but agreed that reform is needed.

“The industry seeks reform that is comprehensive and market-based because the fact is America's health care system needs to be reformed to bring down soaring costs,” said Jennifer Hatcher, FMI group vice president, government relations. “The industry supports greater use of primary care and wellness programs to help achieve cost control because companies and their employees need the best value for their health care dollars.”