Friday, November 16, 2007

Wal-Mart's new health plan means more coverage for employees, better image for retailer

For the past few years, critics have blasted Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for the health care coverage it offers employees. Recently, the company has responded with improvements, reports The New York Times.

While Wal-Mart still insures fewer than half of its 1.4 million employees, the new plan gives insurance to 100,000 employees more than were covered three years ago, report Michael Barbaro and Reed Abelson. It "is now easier for many to sign up for health care at Wal-Mart than at its rival, Target, whose reputation glows in comparison," they write. Wal-Mart employee Katrina Wagner (in a Times photo by Brandi Simons) had declined the retailer's plan last year and just passed on doctor's visits, but she enrolled in the new plan this year.

"In one sign of its success so far, the company has pushed down the price of 2,400 generic prescription drugs to $4 a month for employees, starting next year, a program that it offers, in more limited form, to its customers," Barbaro and Abelson write. "Now, the chain is even considering weight-loss clinics in its 4,000 stores and is toying with the idea of selling health insurance, hoping to finally bring coverage within reach of most Americans."

The changes come after years of public pressure from advocacy groups as well as state legislators. Several states considered bills to force Wal-Mart to expand coverage for its employees, but none of those are in effect now. (Read more)

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