Wal-Mart Touts Worker Health Care Enrollment

BENTONVILLE, Ark. - Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. here released its recent benefits enrollment numbers yesterday, and said employees are pleased with its health care coverage.

The company, which also happens to be the world's largest employer, said this year's open enrollment period represents a nearly 8 percent increase in the number of eligible associates who signed up for Wal-Mart's plans. There was also an 11.3 percent increase for enrollment in its "associate-plus- children" offering, it said.

Wal-Mart said that of those associates who were eligible for enrollment, 636,391 associates enrolled in its plans during the fall 2006 open enrollment period. This means that 47.4 percent of Wal-Mart's 1.3 million associates are covered by its health plans.

Wal-Mart's open enrollment surveys, with more than 200,000 participants, indicated that 43 percent of associates have health care coverage through another source, such as spouse, Medicare, parents/school/college, or military.

"When I took this position eight months ago, I challenged my team to take a closer look at our enrollment numbers and examine why our associates choose our coverage or not," said Linda Dillman, e.v.p. of risk management, benefits, and sustainability, in a statement. "Over the past three years, we've seen steady increases in associates who take our plans. We are also very pleased to see that we are moving people from the uninsured list to the insured list. Our associates are telling us these are the health plans they want and need."

The survey also showed that 9.6 percent of associates do not have any type of health care coverage. "We are not satisfied that 9.6 percent of associates still do not have any type of health coverage," said Dillman. "We will continue to work hard to get a better understanding of why people decline health care coverage, and what we can do to help."

Dillman attributed some of the increased numbers to efforts the company has made in the past year to help associates understand the importance of coverage. Wal-Mart publishes enrollment magazines and uses paycheck reminders, videos, conference calls, and leadership training to educate associates about its health and benefits. This year, the company increased its use of Web-based resources, personal scenario builders, and a health savings account calculator.

In the recent open enrollment period, 1,024,894 full-time and part-time associates were eligible for health benefits, representing 76.3 percent of the work force, Wal-Mart said. The company cited a 2006 Kaiser Family Foundation survey, which found that approximately 59 percent of workers in the retail sector are eligible for benefits. The retailer said the higher percentage of eligible associates results from Wal-Mart's policy of offering benefits to both its full-time and part-time associates.

Hewitt noted that Wal-Mart's broad eligibility ranks it among the highest in its comparative set of 20 large retailers and grocers, according to Wal-Mart. Full-time Wal-Mart associates are typically eligible for coverage after six months of work, while part-time associates are eligible after 12 months.

In addition to showing that Wal-Mart's health benefits are competitive (while the average retail score is 100, the company scored 102.0), the Hewitt Benefit Index also showed that Wal-Mart scored 217.4 on retirement savings benefits and 104.8 on overall benefits, the retailer said.

Since October 2005, Wal-Mart has shortened its eligibility period, allowed part-time workers to cover children, lowered premiums, and lowered co-pays for prescription drugs.

Union-backed WakeUpWalMart.com, one of Wal-Mart's major opponents, said yesterday that the latest figures released by Wal-Mart contradict earlier statements from the retailer.

"Incredibly, Wal-Mart's own health care numbers prove that the Wal-Mart health care crisis has worsened," said Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com. "The sad truth is that despite making $11 billion in annual profit, Wal-Mart still fails to provide company health care to over half of its employees."
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