Wal-Mart Unveils Improved Insurance Plan For Its Employees

Wal-Mart’s rehabilitation continues, possibly: beginning in January, it will offer its employees a revamped insurance package designed to cut costs, expand coverage, and reduce the price of prescription drugs. Even past critics of Wal-Mart, such as health care advocacy group Families USA, are hopeful: “On face value, this looks like a very significant change and improvement.” Some of the plan’s details: a $100-500 grant to defray costs, premiums as low as $5/month, the “elimination” of expensive hospital deductibles, and an increase in the number of $4 prescription drugs to 2,400.

We’re not sure about the details of these details—do the $5/month premiums pay for largely pointless “limited benefit” plans? What deductibles are being eliminated, exactly?— but it’s a step in the right direction.

There are still some valid criticisms. Wal-Mart Watch points out that low wages and long waiting periods (before qualifying for insurance) mean that for a large group of employees, these plans are still unaccessible, and that the new plan is better seen as more of an upgrade for current insurance holders. Too, the cheapest plans have ridiculously high deductibles, which render them fairly useless for low-income families. But others note that it could drive other companies to improve their plans. One benefits consultant says the $4 generics are “game-changing for the industry.”

“Health Plan Overhauled at Wal-Mart” [New York Times]