Employed by Wal-Mart; Insured by the State of Iowa
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced last month that it posted a 16.2 percent increase in profits for its fourth quarter, beating Wall Street expectations. Its earnings for 2004 topped $10 billion for the first time.
At the same time Wal-Mart was earning $10 billion in profits, the Associated Press reports that 856 of Wal-Mart’s 17,000 Iowa employees received health benefits from the state of Iowa through Medicaid, the taxpayer-funded program for Iowa's neediest residents.
Yes, some are part-time workers, but Wal-Mart’s numbers don’t look good compared to Iowa’s largest employer, Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee has 24,500 employees, 361 of whom received Medicaid benefits last year. Five percent of Wal-Mart employees turned to the state of Iowa for their health care. Only 1.5 percent of Hy-Vee employees did the same.
Republicans and Democrats alike are interested in knowing to what extent large corporations like Wal-Mart are shifting their health care costs onto the taxpayers.
Answering that question is the goal of Senate File 199. It would require uninsured patients who receive health care at a hospital to provide the name of their employer and the number of hours they work each week. If the patient is not employed, as in the case of children, hospitals would be required to collect employer information for the person who is responsible for supporting the patient.
This year, Iowa has to come up with an additional $170 million to fund Medicaid. And that $170 million does not include the new dollars the federal government will contribute to Iowa’s Medicaid bills.
Let’s return to the Associated Press article:
“A spokeswoman at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, Polk County's public hospital, said almost two-thirds of its 32,000 patients last year were uninsured, and a majority of them were from the working poor, between 19 and 35 years old. 'It isn't that these companies don't offer health insurance,' spokeswoman Mikki Stier said. 'It's that they offer minimum wage jobs and the employees can't afford health insurance.'"
Our health insurance subsidy of Wal-Mart has counterparts in the areas of housing, education and basic nutrition. Senate File 199 would provide valuable information on one type of hidden subsidy to low-wage employers.