Demanding Corporate Health Care

When the State of Maryland became the first in the nation to require large corporations to spend a fixed amount of money in relation to payroll on health care, they hit upon an area of corporate responsibility that has been sorely lacking. Wal-mart is perhaps the worse offender, but many companies are limiting or eliminating coverage and leaving the States to foot many medical bills, as the meager wages they pay leave their workers no choice but to seek assistance. Because Wal-Mart is the most visible and most egregious offender, the nickname was given, the “Wal-Mart Law.”

The law was enacted Jan. 12th when the Democratic-controlled Maryland Assembly overrode the Republican Governor’s veto of the bill originally passed last spring. It requires companies in Maryland that have more than 10,000 employees to spend at least eight percent of payroll on health care. If they don’t spend it directly on their employees, the corporation would be required to pay into the Medicaid fund. A good step in the right direction. It seems that more good companies that would like to give their employees health care are being squeezed out by cut-throat competitors. At the very least, it gives more fuel to the national debate forming around the issue. If corporations are forced to be more responsible nationwide, more Americans would be covered by health insurance.

Of course, there was a strong backlash. Wal-Mart has threatened to cancel a proposed distribution center that would bring about 1,000 jobs, and they implicitly threaten more. Many other states have considered similar legislation, and have backed off because of the fear of damaging their economies. Now that the first shoe had dropped, they are getting ready to proceed.
There were also claims that a large supporter of the law in Maryland was a Wal-Mart competitor. If they are being forced to reduce their employees benefits to compete with a cut-throat challenge, then they should be applauded for backing the law. If they want to be able to continue to offer at least some benefits, then it is the move of a company with some desire to be a good corporate citizen.

There will most likely be legal challenges, so the dollar effect of the new law might not be felt for some time. What it will do is to force the debate, and to encourage other States to be less afraid of corporate bullies. It is but one small step on the road to a sound health care system for America. And it wont be the last.

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