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Wal-Mart and adversaries unite for healthcare reform


BENTONVILLE, Ark. Shared responsibility and cost containment are essential elements to healthcare reform, according to a letter submitted Tuesday to President Obama by a coalition consisting of Wal-Mart, the Service Employees International Union and the Center for American Progress.

“As the nation’s largest private employer, the nation’s largest union of healthcare workers with over 1 million members and a think-tank that has been a leader on healthcare policy, we have worked closely in support of healthcare reform since 2006, when we came together to help break the stalemate that had defined the healthcare debate for too long,” stated a letter signed by Wal-Mart president and CEO Mike Duke, Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern and Center for America Progress president and CEO John Podesta. “Now, to move the debate forward once again, we are coming together to advance what we believe are important proposals that should be included in the current efforts to reform our nation’s healthcare system. We believe now is the time for action on this vital issue.”

It was a little hard to tell exactly what type of action the executives were calling for in a letter that was short on specifics and long on sweeping generalities about difficult choices that lay ahead, the necessity of reform to improve global competitiveness and the need to work together. However, it was argued that payment reform and efficiency initiatives need to be at the center of healthcare reform because, “healthcare reform without controlling costs is no reform at all.”

Reform measures also should advocate shared responsibility, where everyone makes some contribution to his or her healthcare, and there needs to be assurance of cost containment if employers agree to coverage mandates. “Not every business can make the same contribution, but everyone must make some contribution. We are for an employer mandate which is fair and broad in its coverage, but any alternative to an employer mandate should not create barriers to hiring entry-level employees,” the letter stated.

Clearly, the devil will be in the details as measures related to mandated coverage, efficiency measures and shared responsibility are put forth and debated. But as the executives made clear in their letter, the nation already is feeling the effects of a dysfunctional healthcare system, and failing to act now is not an option.

To bolster their call to action, the executives cited some interesting statistics in the letter. For example, in 2008, half of all people filing for home foreclosure cited medical problems as a cause. In addition, the trio cited a study in the journal Health Affairs, which suggested the higher taxes and premiums needed to meet rising healthcare costs threaten to consume the benefits of nearly all economic growth over the next four decades. A study by the Center for America Progress also was cited, which indicated the U.S. economy loses $244 billion every year in lost productivity due to the uninsured.

In a separate statement, Wal-Mart’s EVP corporate affairs and government relations Leslie Dach noted the nation is entering a critical time when those who will be asked to pay for healthcare reform have to make choices on whether to support legislation. “The choice will require employers to consider the trade-off of a coverage mandate and higher taxes for the promise of a reduction in healthcare cost increases,” Dach said. “We also believe that a mandate must be accompanied by provisions that will reduce health costs and dramatically improve the value we get for our healthcare dollar.”

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