Will repeated Wash. Post's misleading Wal-Mart health care defense

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

Washington Post columnist George F. Will repeated the misleading claim that Wal-Mart workers "are only slightly more likely to collect Medicaid than the average among the nation's large retailers."

In his January 19 column defending Wal-Mart's health insurance program, Washington Post columnist George F. Will repeated the misleading claim that "Wal-Mart employees are only slightly more likely to collect Medicaid than the average among the nation's large retailers." Will made this claim in denouncing a recently passed Maryland law that will require large businesses to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on employee health insurance or pay the difference into Maryland's health care program for the poor. According to Will, "Wal-Mart's enemies" justified the bill by arguing that "the company's pay and medical benefits are insufficient to prevent some employees from being eligible for Medicaid."

An April 6, 2005, Post article noted that in addition to Wal-Mart, only three other employers in the state -- Johns Hopkins University, supermarket chain Giant Food, and defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. -- "have enough employees to fall under the bill's requirements. But all meet the 8 percent threshold for for-profit employers or the 6 percent mandated for nonprofits."

While Will stated that "Wal-Mart employees are only slightly more likely to collect Medicaid than the average among the nation's large retailers," a larger gap exists for the children of Wal-Mart employees, as Media Matters for America has previously noted. In an internal memo prepared for Wal-Mart's November 2005 board of directors retreat, Wal-Mart executive vice president for benefits M. Susan Chambers acknowledged that 27 percent of children of Wal-Mart employees are enrolled in Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) -- a figure Chambers called "significant." According to an October 26, 2005, paper by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education, "22% of children of employees of large retailers are enrolled in Medicaid/SCHIP, compared to 27% reported by Wal-Mart for children of their employees." The UC-Berkeley researchers further reported that only 22.7 percent of children of all retail employees are enrolled in Medicaid or SCHIP. (As Media Matters has noted, the 22.7 percent figure conflicts with Chambers's memo, which claims that 36 percent of the children of all retail workers are enrolled in Medicaid or SCHIP.)

The Berkeley researchers found an even greater difference when they added uninsured children of employees to the comparison: "While 46% of the children of Wal-Mart workers are either uninsured or on Medicaid/SCHIP, the comparable figure for children of all large retail workers is 29%." That difference appears to be directly relevant to the Maryland law; a 2003 Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured study found that "[u]ninsured Americans received about $35 billion in uncompensated health care treatment in 2001, with federal, state and local governments covering potentially as much as 85 percent."

From Will's January 19 column:

Wal-Mart's enemies say Maryland is justified in expropriating some of the company's revenue because the company's pay and medical benefits are insufficient to prevent some employees from being eligible for Medicaid. Well.

Eighty-six percent of Wal-Mart employees have health insurance, more than half through the company, which offers 18 plans, one with $11 monthly premiums and another with $3 co-payments. Wal-Mart employees are only slightly more likely to collect Medicaid than the average among the nation's large retailers, which hire many entry-level and part-time workers.

Will's claim echoes similarly misleading claims made by the Post editorial board and Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby.

In addition, Will's assertion that 86 percent of Wal-Mart employees are insured echoes an old Wal-Mart claim that has been contradicted by more recent Wal-Mart data. According to a June 2, 2005, article in Business NH Magazine, Wal-Mart's website claimed at the time: "Currently, 86 percent of Wal-Mart hourly store associates surveyed have medical insurance -- 56 percent of those with coverage receive health care insurance from WalMart and the remainder receive health care through another source, such as another employer, a family member, the military, or Medicare." Wal-Mart's website no longer makes this claim.

According to the Chambers memo, 19 percent of Wal-Mart employees are uninsured, and 5 percent are insured by Medicaid -- meaning that 76 percent of Wal-Mart employees have non-Medicaid insurance. In a January 2006 press release denouncing the Maryland law, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark said that "[m]ore than three-fourths of Wal-Mart associates have health insurance."

Posted In
Health Care, Medicaid
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
George F. Will
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