WASHINGTON—As Walmart executives publicized an employee healthcare change that showcased no-cost spine and heart surgeries at select hospitals, managers delivered a different message to retail associates at their stores: your healthcare costs are going up, again. Premiums are set to increase by up to 36% next year, employees were told, adding to steep hikes they faced last year. In comparison, projections for large employer-sponsored health plans are expected to increase by only 5.5 percent, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
This time last year, Walmart substantially rolled back coverage for part-time workers and significantly raised premiums as reported in the New York Times. Already working for poverty paychecks as a result of low-wages and insufficient hours, many of the company’s 1.4 million employees and their families are already uninsured and rely on costly public healthcare programs. The costly new changes are pushing many more hard-working Walmart Associates to drop coverage – a concern that members of OUR Walmart, the nationwide organization of Associates calling for change at the company, have been speaking out about.
Dan Hindman, a four year Associate from Paramount, Calif. store, doesn’t know how he is going to manage the rising costs. “Last year, my monthly premium went up 33%, and this year it’s going up another 25%. I can barely afford the Walmart healthcare right now,” said Hindman. “But I don’t want to lose coverage for my son and me.”
Walmart workers with families are some of the hardest hit by the changes in the plan. The increases over the last two years have doubled family coverage. This year alone, workers with children are facing an increase of up to 36% and those with full family coverage are confronted with a hike of 32%.
“Walmart’s double-digit premium increases, increased deductibles and cutbacks for part-time employees seem really excessive given the company’s profits,” said Ross Eisenbrey, Vice President at the Economic Policy Institute. “These harsh benefit cuts are out of line with what’s actually required by the insurance market, which nationwide has had only single-digit cost increases. With wages and household incomes stagnant—as well as families still recovering from the recession—it’s a particularly bad time for a rich company like Walmart to be shifting more costs onto its employees.”
Barbara Andridge, an eight-year Associate from Placerville, Calif. was hit hard last year when premiums and deductibles increased. Of the news, she said, “I couldn’t believe the increases last year and how much I had to pay out-of-pocket before my insurance started kicking in. I just couldn’t afford another hike this year. Walmart just doesn’t understand what’s really going on for the workers that keep the company’s doors open. That’s why OUR Walmart is working to make sure our voices are heard.”
OUR Walmart members have been calling for changes at the company, including access to affordable healthcare, that will help workers, families and communities. In just one year, OUR Walmart has grown from an organization of 100 workers to a national organization of thousands of employees from 43 states. Earlier this month, workers from more than a dozen cities walked off the job in protest of the retaliation that workers have been facing for speaking out about issues such as healthcare, scheduling, customer service and safety issues. Elected officials, community leaders and workers held protests at more than 200 Walmart stores across the country and committed to joining workers to stop the retaliation and to reclaim Black Friday for Walmart workers and their communities by engaging in a wide range of non-violent activities on and leading up to Black Friday, including rallies, flash mobs, direct action and other efforts to inform customers about the illegal actions that Walmart has been taking against its workers.
Karin Aubrey-Sullivan, a 54-year old Walmart Associate from Cape Canaveral, Fla. store, says the increases mean healthcare premiums could now eat up one-third of each of her paychecks. “I am scared to death now with the insurance changes for 2013,” she says. “The rates have gone up again, and the deductibles have both been increased. I have developed some health issues over the past couple of years so I really need to carry insurance, but I just don’t know how I’ll cover the costs.”
In addition to the premium increases, Walmart has added a number of restrictions on eligibility to the plan that will significantly limit access to coverage, even at the unaffordable rates. Under the new plan, Associates hired after February 1, 2012 will need to average 30 hours a week to be eligible for healthcare, an increase from the 24-hour eligibility requirement that was put into place last year. Up until last year, all part time employees were able to purchase insurance after 365 days of employment.
Workers also face steep increases in out-of-pocket costs. Beyond the dramatic increases in premium costs, Walmart has drastically increased costs for out-of-network coverage. For the first time, Walmart has created different deductibles for in-network versus out-of-network care. Previously all monies spent counted toward the deductible.
Follow latest developments at Making Change at Walmart campaign
Kevin Mahoney is the Founder and Editor Zero of Raging Chicken Press. When he’s not rabble-rousing on Raging Chicken, he’s teaching rhetoric and writing at Kutztown University.