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April 08, 2005
Bill Would Require Wal-Mart to Pay More for Healthcare

Maryland lawmakers have approved legislation that would require for-profit employers with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of payroll on healthcare benefits for employees or pay the difference into the state's health program for the poor, the Washington Post reports.

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With 15,000 employees, Wal-Mart would be the only employer in the state that would be affected by the legislation because other businesses with more than 10,000 employees meet the proposed 8-percent threshold for for-profit businesses, the newspaper reports. Under the legislation, large non-profit organizations would be subject to a 6-percent threshold.

The company says it is being singled out, but lawmakers who support the legislation disagree.

"We're looking for responsible businesses to ante up . . . and provide adequate health care," says Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Democrat.

Lawmakers who oppose the legislation say it goes too far.

"This is crossing a bridge," says Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a Republican. "Annapolis is telling private business in the private marketplace what to do."

The House and Senate must reconcile small differences between the bills they approved before it would go to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is expected to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. The newspaper reports that supporters of the bill appear to have enough votes to override a veto.

Wal-Mart's critics say many of the company's employees are forced to rely on government programs for healthcare benefits because the workers are uncovered by Wal-Mart.

The company tells the newspaper that 80 percent of its workers in Maryland are eligible for benefits, with more than 52 percent of those workers enrolled in its program.

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