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The Association of U S West Retirees
 

 

 

Support grows for health care coalition

Associated Press

May 9, 2007

 

        NEW YORK (AP) - Support appears to be growing for a coalition initiated by
an unlikely pair -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the Service Employees International
Union -- that aims to push affordable, quality health care as a top priority for
politicians.
 
    The coalition called Better Health Care Together announced at a forum
Tuesday that Embarq Corp., General Mills Inc., Maersk Line, Manpower Inc., Qwest
Communications International Inc., and RR Donnelley have climbed on board. The
labor union Communications Workers of America also joined, along with the think
tanks Center for American Progress, Committee for Economic Development, and the
Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. Other members, which signed on in
February, include AT&T Inc., Intel Corp. and Kelly Services Inc.
 
    However, during the forum -- the second in three months -- the group did not
offer any specific policies to achieve this goal, or commit to spending any
extra money in the short-term to provide health coverage to more workers.
    The group got approval from Govs. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Arnold
Schwarzenegger of California, who supported the coalition and spoke of their own
plans to bring about universal health care coverage in their states.
 
    Rendell hopes to get a health care plan passed ensuring access to quality
health care to Pennsylvania's 900,000 uninsured citizens while containing costs.
    Over a satellite video link, Schwarzenegger explained that a coalition of
business and labor leaders will encourage more politicians to take the issue of
affordable health care more seriously.
 
    Eric Hauser, spokesman for Service Employees International, said in an
interview after the meeting that the union would continue to fund its Wal-Mart
Watch campaign, which early this year criticized Wal-Mart's health plans as a
raw deal for employees.
 
    If there was little dissent in the meeting, it was likely because
dissenters, including about 300 people organized by WakeUpWalMart.com, were kept
outside.
 
    Chris Kofinis, a spokesman for the group backed by the United Food and
Commercial Workers union, said it was ironic that Wal-Mart was one of the
coalition leaders when less than half of its employees are covered under the
company's health plan. Kofinis said the world's largest retailer needed to start
leading by example and provide a more affordable health plan for its workers.
 
    Wal-Mart has made some changes to its plan, including lowering premiums and
shortening eligibility periods, but WakeUpWalMart.com has maintained they're not
enough.
 
    "Ninety percent of Wal-Mart associates are covered and then there are those
who choose not to be for whatever reason," Wal-Mart Chief Executive Lee Scott
told a reporter at the summit who had asked about demonstrators outside the
hotel where the forum was held.
 
    Both Scott and Kofinis are right about the health coverage of Wal-Mart
employees. According to Wal-Mart, 47.4 percent of its 1.3 million employees
participate in the company's health plan, with 22.2 percent covered by their
spouse's plan and the rest covered by government plans. About 9.6 percent of
employees do not have any medical coverage.
 
    Sarah Clark, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said participation in the health
plan is low because many students, seniors, and second-income providers who work
for the company have other means of insurance.
 
    Two uninsured employees -- Cynthia Murray of Hyattsville, Md., and Charmaine
Givens of Evergreen Park, Ill. -- were barred by security from delivering a
grievance letter to Scott at the meeting. Both Murray and Givens say they do not
have health insurance because Wal-Mart's plan is too expensive with yearly
deductibles of $1,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a family.
 
    Kofinis, who called the meeting a publicity stunt meant to deflect attention
from the company's health care program, said the average Wal-Mart employee makes
about $17,000 per year.
 
    At least one representative for WakeUpWalMart.com was escorted out of the
meeting by security for handing out copies of the letter to the media.
    
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