Wal-Mart Makes Changes to 2008 Health Benefits Package

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. said yesterday it's made "further improvements" to the health care benefits it offers its 1.3 million full- and part-time U.S. associates. The latest changes from the world's largest retailer - and employer - include more personalized choices, reduced deductibles, pre-deductible health care credits, and a $4 co-pay for more than 2,400 covered generic prescriptions.

Wal-Mart said it estimates the generic prescription program will save associates approximately $25 million in 2008. The company's open enrollment period will start Sept. 22.

"We worked closely with our associates to design an even more affordable health benefits package based on what they told us they wanted and needed," said Linda Dillman, e.v.p. of risk management, benefits, and sustainability, in a statement. "Ninety percent of our associates now have health insurance, and we want that number to increase. Our health coverage next year will be even stronger, offer more options, and give people more tools to help them save money and live better lives."

Highlights in the new 2008 benefits package include:

-- Associates will now have more than 50 ways of customizing their health care coverage options, which will allow them to select various deductibles, health care credits, and premiums, depending on their needs. This is a substantial increase from last year, when most associates had only nine choices, Wal-Mart said.

-- Associates who enroll in the Value Plan -- which is becoming Wal-Mart's most popular plan -- will receive an annual pre-deductible health care credit for each covered family member. They will be able to choose a $100, $250, or $500 health care credit that can be used to pay for covered medical expenses before costs are applied to the annual deductible. Under this credit provision, the first $100, $250, or $500 in eligible medical expenses for each person covered by the plan is paid by the plan and not the participant.

Beyond the credit, once the deductible is met, eligible expenses are typically covered by the plan at 80 percent in network. Once the out-of-pocket maximum is met, the plan pays 100 percent of eligible expenses in the network -- with no lifetime maximum.

-- Deductibles have been lowered. Inpatient and outpatient hospital deductibles have been removed from the Value Plan this year, saving associates as much as $3,000 over the current Value Plan, according to Wal-Mart.

-- As in the past, minor children of a Wal-Mart associate will be eligible for health benefits as soon as the parent is eligible.

Also this year, Wal-Mart is distributing "Enrollment Made Easy," a DVD designed to walk associates through the enrollment process, will be mailed this month to the home of every Wal-Mart associate.
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