Editorial: Health care legislation provides benchmark

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 9, 2005

One of the major stumbling blocks prohibiting Minnesota lawmakers from finding agreement in the current special session to a two-year state budget is over how state-subsidized health care should be handled.

As a way to curb rising health care costs to the state, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and House Republicans have proposed eligibility changes to MinnesotaCare, the state-sponsored health insurance program for low-income people and children, by taking off its rolls able-bodied single adults. But Senate Democrats say the move will cut 30,000 from health insurance, involving mostly the working poor.

There may be a way to ease that tension, but it has also called into play the retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which opposes an effort before the Legislature to ensure working people receive adequate health care coverage.

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Wal-Mart is actively lobbying against a bill which would create a list of companies whose workers are enrolled in MinnesotaCare and other government health care programs. The opposition is continuing, as the Legislature may yet vote on the bill during the special session.

Wal-Mart opposes the measure because it believes it is aimed squarely at the big-box retailer, which employed 17,329 people in Minnesota as of October, because of its size and that it employs a large amount of seasonal employees.

While certainly no state law should adversely target any one business, the proposed legislation could provide lawmakers with a benchmark to ensure that the private sector is providing adequate health care coverage and not dumping that responsibility onto the state and its taxpayers. In some cases, the state help might be needed. For instance, small employers who can’t afford to carry group insurance might be able to piggyback on MinnesotaCare to offer a cafeteria plan of benefits to their workers, which would be better than no insurance at all.

But it seems that some of the nation’s largest companies should be able to offer their workers adequate coverage, and the proposed bill will prove that out, making sure that big multinational companies are not outsourcing health care to taxpayers.

It is important to show if large companies are trimming health care coverage to maintain their competitive advantage. Health care coverage should be accessible and affordable to all workers, whether in a two-person shop or a 200-worker big-box retailer.

&045; The Bemidji Pioneer