Doyle Accuses Wal-Mart of Health Care 'Dumping'

January 19, 2006 ( - The battle between officials and lawmakers in several states and large employers over giving their workers health care coverage has continued in Wisconsin with unusually harsh words from Governor Jim Doyle.

During his State of the State address Tuesday, Doyle singled out Wal-Mart as a prime target of his proposed bill that would force companies to stop a practice that he said involved the employers deliberately pushing workers into publicly financed health programs. He said employers have dropped health coverage for some workers or have made it prohibitively expensive.

Doyle labeled the practice that has likewise drawn action from lawmakers in several states “health care dumping.” The giant retailer has battled the various moves around the country, insisting that it is doing nothing wrong.

In the speech , Doyle called for legislation to penalize employers $250,000 per incident for “dumping.” Doyle’s comments on Wal-Mart came as part of a wide-ranging  health care proposal .

“Even as we expand our commitment to health coverage, we need to make sure that some companies aren’t reducing theirs,” Doyle asserted in the speech. “Wal-Mart is one of the most profitable companies in the world, yet it has more than 1,200 employees and dependents on (publicly financed health care program) BadgerCare – far more than any other company in the state.  And Wisconsin’s taxpayers are picking up the tab.”

Doyle continued: “I want to make this very clear to Wal-Mart and any other company that might be thinking of shifting its health care responsibility to taxpayers: BadgerCare is intended to help working families, not multi-billion dollar corporations. Tonight, I am calling on the Legislature to outlaw the practice of health care dumping.  Companies cannot be allowed to deliberately manipulate the system.  If they are dropping coverage for employees they know are eligible for state programs so they can increase profits, there should be serious consequences.” The governor concluded: “It is unfair, it is unethical, and we should make it illegal. “

Health Care Mandate Dies in Committee

On Wednesday, a Wisconsin Assembly committee heard testimony about the health care proposal. One bill would have required companies with more than 10,000 workers to cover 80% of health care costs or the company would have to refund the state for the cost of their employees.

Although the bill died in the committee hearing, Doyle said that he will propose similar legislation soon. Republicans control the Wisconsin state legislature so the bill’s future is uncertain.

Should another bill arise, some employers warn officials that such legislation would have dire consequences for the state.  Nate Hurt, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said that Doyle “will be sending a clear message to employers, investors and companies everywhere: Wisconsin is closed for business”

The state of Maryland last week passed the first law in the country requiring Wal-Mart to pay more for employee health insurance (See  Veto of ‘Wal-Mart Bill’ Overridden in MD Senate ). Wal-Mart’s response to the move in Maryland is  here . West Virginia lawmakers are also discussing a similar measure in that state ( West Virginia Legislators Ponder ‘Wal-Mart Bill’ ).