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Wal-Mart supports employer-mandated health coverage


Bentonville, Ark. Wal-Mart Stores said on Tuesday that it supports President Barack Obama's push to require large employers to offer health insurance to workers. The endorsement of what is referred to as the employer mandate represents a major turnaround for the discounter and gives a boost to a key component of the White House’s plan to reform health care.

“We are for an employer mandate which is fair and broad in its coverage," stated a letter addressed to President Obama and signed by Mike Duke, president and CEO of Wal-Mart; Andy Stern, president of Service Employees International Union and John Podesta, head of the Center for American Progress, a think tank. Duke wrote: “Not every business can make the same contributions, but everyone must make some contribution.”

The other groups that signed the letter were noteworthy in that they were not from organizations traditionally aligned with Wal-Mart. The Service Employees International Union, which has more than a million members, has been a critic of the chain in the past. The Center for American Progress is a liberal think tank -- Podesta headed up Obama’s transition team.

The letter noted that any alternative to an employee mandate should not create barriers to hiring entry-level employees. This was a response to some proposals in Congress to have employers pay the Medicaid costs of new employees, which critics contend would discourage the hiring of low-income individuals.

Some employers and businesses have spoken out against the proposed plans to include an employer mandate in comprehensive reform packages. Several years ago, Wal-Mart fought efforts in Maryland and other states that would have required large companies to offer health insurance. However, the letter suggested that Wal-Mart believes the time has come for compromise.

“We are entering a critical time during which all of us who will be asked to pay for healthcare reform will have to make a choice on whether to support the legislation,” according to the letter. “This choice will require employers to consider the trade off of agreeing to a coverage mandate and additional taxes vs. the promise of reduced healthcare cost increases.”

In a separate statement, Wal-Mart said that the mandate should cover as many businesses as possible, and cover part-time and full-time employees.

"Any alternative to an employer mandate should not create barriers or disincentives to hiring workers with disabilities, entry level employees, or people from low income families." said Leslie Dach, Wal-Mart's executive VP corporate affairs and government relations, in a statement.

To read the two statements, click here.

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