Wash. Post editorial repeated misleading Wal-Mart health care defense; editorial board member made same claim less than two months ago

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN & JEREMY SCHULMAN

A Washington Post editorial repeated the misleading claim that "Wal-Mart employees, like the employees of other large retailers that employ many low-wage workers, are only slightly more likely to collect Medicaid benefits than the national average." Media Matters for America has previously noted that a larger gap exists for the children of Wal-Mart employees.

A January 12 Washington Post editorial repeated the misleading claim that "Wal-Mart employees, like the employees of other large retailers that employ many low-wage workers, are only slightly more likely to collect Medicaid benefits than the national average." The Post editorial made the claim in arguing against the passage of a Maryland law -- passed late on January 12, overriding a veto by Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) -- that will require large businesses "to spend 8 percent of their payroll on health care benefits or to the state's health program for the poor."

According to an April 6, 2005, Post article, in addition to Wal-Mart, only three other employers in the state -- Johns Hopkins University, supermarket chain Giant Food, and defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. -- "have enough employees to fall under the bill's requirements. But all meet the 8 percent threshold for for-profit employers or the 6 percent mandated for nonprofits."

While the Post editorial defended Wal-Mart's health care program by noting that Wal-Mart employees are "are only slightly more likely to collect Medicaid benefits than the national average," a larger gap exists for the children of Wal-Mart employees, as Media Matters for America has previously noted. In an internal memo prepared for Wal-Mart's November 2005 board of directors retreat, Wal-Mart executive vice president for benefits M. Susan Chambers acknowledged that 27 percent of children of Wal-Mart employees are enrolled in Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) -- a figure Chambers called "significant." According to the memo, the national average for all employees is 22 percent. And -- according to an October 26, 2005, paper by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education -- "22% of children of employees of large retailers are enrolled in Medicaid/SCHIP, compared to 27% reported by Wal-Mart for children of their employees." The UC-Berkeley researchers further reported that only 22.7 percent of children of all retail employees are enrolled in Medicaid or SCHIP. (As Media Matters has noted, the 22.7 percent figure conflicts with Chambers' memo, which claims that 36 percent of the children of retail workers are enrolled in Medicaid or SCHIP.)

Moreover, the Berkeley researchers found that when the percentage of children of Wal-Mart employees who are either uninsured or enrolled in Medicaid or SCHIP is compared with other retailers, Wal-Mart fares far worse by comparison: "While 46% of the children of Wal-Mart workers are either uninsured or on Medicaid/SCHIP, the comparable figure for children of all large retail workers is 29%." The comparable figure reported by the Berkeley researchers for all retail workers was 31.8 percent. (A 2003 study conducted by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, along with researchers from the Urban Institute, found that "[u]ninsured Americans received about $35 billion in uncompensated health care treatment in 2001, with federal, state and local governments covering potentially as much as 85 percent.")

The Post editorial's claim echoed an almost identical one recently made by Sebastian Mallaby, a member of the Post editorial board. In a November 28, 2005, column, Mallaby wrote: "Wal-Mart's critics also paint the company as a parasite on taxpayers, because 5 percent of its workers are on Medicaid. Actually that's a typical level for large retail firms, and the national average for all firms is 4 percent." New York Times columnist John Tierney and National Review editor Rich Lowry have offered similarly misleading defenses of Wal-Mart's health care program.

From the Washington Post editorial, titled "Beating up on Wal-Mart":

The Maryland bill is a legislative mugging masquerading as an act of benevolent social engineering. It is true that skyrocketing health care costs and the growing ranks of uninsured workers represent a burden on the state's health system that other corporations in effect help subsidize. But Wal-Mart employees, like the employees of other large retailers that employ many low-wage workers, are only slightly more likely to collect Medicaid benefits than the national average. And unlovable as it may be, Wal-Mart serves low- and middle-income people, both by creating entry-level and part-time jobs for people who might otherwise be unemployed and by saving its moderate-income customers a staggering amount of money.

Posted In
Economy, Health Care, Medicaid
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
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