Tuesday, January 13, 2004
If you don't want to go to fist city, you better detour around my town
On last night's 10 o'clock local news (WAND ABC), Wal-Mart ran a sweet ad about a sales associate whose infant child had contracted some horrible disease. The child, we are told, got the best of care, including a trip to the Mayo Clinic. The ad ends with the father saying, "Wal-Mart has better benefits than people give them credit for."
It's becoming clear that Wal-Mart has developed an ad campaign designed to limit blow back from the California grocery strike.
But how do Wal-Mart's benefits stand up?
Walmart.com has a page of information for potential employees, but it doesn't give any specifics. We learn only that the plan, "covers most major medical expenses. The company contributes to the cost of health benefits and we offer affordable Associate plans. There is no limit for most health coverage." link
Let me highlight a few features of this description. First off, by saying that the plan 'covers most major medical expenses' Wal-Mart is telling us that it doesn't cover all major medical expenses. They're also hinting that it doesn't cover minor medical expenses--things like annual check-ups or flu shots. Keep this in mind and consider what 'no limit for most health coverage' might mean. Lastly, notice that though they tell us that the company 'contributes to the cost' they don't tell us the size of that contribution. From this we might infer that their contribution isn't much to brag about.
Something else bears mentioning. They don't say anything at all about eligibility for the health plan. But unless Wal-Mart is more generous than most companies, employees will have to put in six months to a year of full-time work before becoming eligible for health insurance coverage. Since many of Wal-Mart's sales associates are part timers, and Wal-Mart has a well documented history of culling senior employees from the work force, there's reason to suspect that enrollment in the health plan is not particularly high.
It's difficult to reconcile Wal-Mart's advertising copy with this analysis of Wal-Mart's health insurance plan. According to the analysis, Wal-Mart offers what's called a 'limited-benefit' plan, capped at $1000 per year. These plans are cheap and do cover things like routine doctor visits. But they don't pay the bills at the Mayo Clinic. The analysis looks to be about a year old, so it may be that Wal-Mart has changed plans.
An article in the Christian Science Monitor last October analyzes changes in employer sponsored health insurance and says that, "Some, like Wal-Mart, only offer catastrophic plans to cover primarily life-threatening situations." link This fits more closely with the advertising copy.
But whichever is right, whether Wal-Mart has a catastrophic plan or a limited-benefit plan, this much is clear: Their health insurance sucks.
Some additional bullshit: On their health insurance benefits page, Wal-Mart claims that, "60% of our Associates tell us they joined Wal-Mart because of our benefits." But in the Christian Science Monitor article a Wal-Mart spokesperson is quoted as saying that, "roughly 50 percent" of Wal-Mart's workers are enrolled in the health plan. So did 10% 'join' Wal-Mart for the benefits and then become disgusted with the health plan?