Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Health Bill Comes Due; Wal-Mart Diagnoses America's Ailing, Out-of-Control Health Care System

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Health Bill Comes Due; Wal-Mart Diagnoses America's Ailing, Out-of-Control Health Care System

Article excerpt

CHECK CHUTZPAH IN YOUR NEXT EDITION OF WEBSTER's. It may have to be updated to include a sketch of Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott. Speaking at a recent meeting of the National Governors' Association, Scott informed the assembled dignitaries that government needs to do more to help Wal-Mart get health care to its low-wage, benefit-challenged employees. That's a tough message to hear from the CEO of the world's largest retailer, a behemoth that last year generated more than $285 billion in revenue and $10 billion in profit.

Once media-shy, Wal-Mart is struggling to improve its unpleasant public image and derail legislative efforts to force it to assume a greater share of the cost of its employees' health care, so Mr. Scott's altar call at the governors' meeting may have been self-serving and disingenuous. But that doesn't mean he was wrong to make it.

Wal-Mart has been expanding the health coverage it offers, and last year confronted health care costs that rose more than 19 percent. Despite its improved efforts, the company is not even close to covering all its 1.7 million employees.

Wal-Mart's dissed associates join millions of other U.S. workers in the growing national pool of full-time employees who are no longer offered health coverage or who cannot afford to pay into their companies' increasingly expensive plans. It could just be that our 60-year experiment with employer-provided health care is grinding down to a dismal and dangerous conclusion with no viable alternative on the cultural horizon.

The United States maintains the world's costliest health care system with per capita expenses that are two to three times higher than what other advanced Western economies pay for more humane systems that are at least equal--arguably superior--to the U.S. And our industrialized peers manage to provide something the U.S. system shockingly has failed to offer despite decades of political hand-wringing: dependable, universal care to all citizens.

Many U.S. business leaders, like Scott, are surely aware by now that the nation's health care delivery system no longer functions and that with annual increases that are often triple or more over the rate of inflation, health coverage will increasingly be out of reach of more businesses and workers. …

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