Nearly one-quarter of Wal-Mart’s 37,000 workers in Tennessee rely on Medicaid, according to state officials who released the figures at the request of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The data show that Wal-Mart has more employees enrolled in TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, than any other company.
Other states have also found that Wal-Mart’s labor practices are placing a heavy burden on public assistance programs. Last year Georgia revealed that 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees are enrolled in the state’s healthcare program for uninsured children. West Virginia and Washington reported that significant numbers of Wal-Mart employees depend on state programs to make ends meet.
A University of California study released last summer estimated that taxpayers are spending $86 million a year providing healthcare and other public assistance to the state’s 44,000 Wal-Mart employees.
TennCare spokesperson Michael Drescher told the Times Free Press, “The fact of the matter is there is a trend here that large employers have a large number of TennCare enrollees on the rolls, and we have to find out what’s behind that.”
In the case of Wal-Mart, unaffordable premiums and overly strict eligibility requirements place the company’s health insurance out of reach for most of its employees. A full-time Wal-Mart employee would have to spend more than $2,500 a year to obtain coverage for her and her spouse, according to an AFL-CIO report. For the typical employee, this would amount to one-fifth of her pre-tax wages. Part-time workers, the majority of Wal-Mart’s employees, are not eligible to purchase coverage until they’ve been on the job for at least two years.
Tennessee State Representative JoAnne Favors has proposed a bill that would require the state to track all companies that have at least 25 employees enrolled in TennCare. She said the data would help demonstrate that many recipients of public assistance are in fact working full-time, but receive inadequate compensation and benefits from their employers.
The bill is based on a similar law enacted in Massachusetts last fall that mandates that state officials annually disclose companies with more than 50 employees in the state’s healthcare program.