Better Wal-Mart Health

New Orleans     Watch the sky! Pigs are flying!

Wal-Mart announced actual improvements in its health care offering for its associates. The improvements included a grant of $100-500 to lower health costs while reducing premiums in some cases as low as $5 per month. The company claimed they would also get rid of hospital deductibles while making a slew of generic drugs available to workers at $4 a pop. According to Michael Barbaro writing in the New York Times the company is offering 2400 generics which is even better than they are offering their customers in terms of variety by 2000. Nothing to sneeze at in any of that.

Of course the waiting period will be long, the hours to qualify will be extensive in this highly part-time workforce, and the deductibles that workers will have to pay on the low premium end will be extensive and up to $2000 in some cases, so that makes you wonder if calling this health insurance is really the right name for it, but it’s progress.

Marcus Kabel, writing for the AP, claims that Wal-Mart figures indicate the take-up rate for the insurance is also improving and has gone from 43% at the start of 2005 to 47% of the 1.34 million US workers now. Since those figures are self-certified by the company, I would read them with a mountain full of salt rather than a few grains, but I hate to quibble. Talking to workers in the Wal-Mart Workers Association in Florida that we continue to support they simply can not find any evidence that almost half of the employees are on the plan, though the level of confusion by workers is so intense about the plan that some think they are on even before they are remotely eligible in another case of marketing trumping reality. There is also no evidence to support that 90% of Wal-Mart workers are covered by some other plan, unless the plan is called Uncle Sam.

Amazing that even when they do something a bit better — and we applaud that — it gets so lost in the fictions that they are spinning about the work force and the gullibility of the press that it tarnishes their tale. What is really wrong with truth in advertising, because that’s all that this kind of statement is for Wal-Mart and their brand?

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