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The politics of Healthcare need reform

Excerpts from WSJ article on employee mandate and Wal-Mart's views

The employer-mandate endorsement falls into the same self-interest department. A boost in the minimum wage helps Wal-Mart because most of its workers already earn well over the wage floor, and it hurts smaller, less-profitable competitors that can't afford to pay more. On health care, an employer mandate will also reduce the margins of their rivals.

This is especially true for businesses of a slightly smaller size that cannot insure on the same scale or currently don't reach the 55% of the 1.4 million Wal-Mart employees who are insured through the company. (Another 40% or so are covered by spouses or the likes of Medicaid.)

The Wal-Mart-Stern-Podesta troika made sure to specify that "shared responsibility" must be "fair and broad in its coverage," with an emphasis on the latter. The Mom & Pop stores that liberals accuse Wal-Mart of running out of town may get hit hardest.

Democrats say they'll exempt certain small businesses, size details to be determined. But if the mandate is limited to large employers, it won't reduce the number of uninsured. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 99% of firms with more than 200 workers provide health benefits, only 62% of smaller firms.

Businesses are also largely indifferent whether compensation comes in the form of wages or benefits, so an employer mandate -- an indirect tax on employment -- may cause wages to rise more slowly. Or it may simply mean fewer jobs.

In a 2007 paper, the economists Katherine Baicker of Harvard and Helen Levy of the University of Michigan estimate that 0.2% of all full-time workers and 1.4% of uninsured workers would lose their jobs because of an employer mandate. Most at risk are the 33% of the uninsured earning within $3 of the minimum wage. 

Thus many of the same people who shop at Wal-Mart because of its low prices -- and who Democrats claim to speak for -- would be worse off.


Comments on above article:

Everyday Low Politics    Wal-Mart buys protection

An employer pay-or-play tax is not only a revenue grab to fund government health care, but it is also meant to transfer the choices about coverage to government from consumers. Businesses are going along with this and other gambits in part because of a prisoners' dilemma: They're terrified of being shut out of Democratic health negotiations lest they get stuck with the bill.  Wal-Mart may also be trying to pre-empt an employer mandate the Senate is considering that would target companies with predominantly low-wage, low-skilled or entry-level work forces.

Other big businesses are also trying to buy protection or some political reprieve.  Big Pharma recently promised to reduce the cost of prescription drugs by $80 billion over the next decade, and the physician, hospital and insurance lobbies have made similar offerings. Yet the political class is simply pocketing these concessions and demanding more, hastening the day when government controls most U.S. health dollars -- and the businesses become the equivalent of utilities.

Mr. Stern has been clear that his major goal all along has been to pressure Wal-Mart into endorsing government health insurance. As for Wal-Mart's executives, please don't come running for help when Mr. Stern returns for his next political payoff.