Who should pay for a Walmart employee’s health care, Walmart or taxpayers? | Editorial

Updated Mar 6, 2019

Corporate behemoths such as Walmart and McDonald’s are just starting to catch on to that fair wage concept. But they still don’t offer “affordable” health care. The result: Their low-wage employees must rely on Medicaid, so you are paying for the health insurance for many of the 450,000 recipients in our state.

That’s right, you’re in the burger business. You’re in the big box store industry.

No doubt, the new $15 wage is a wonderful thing, but it’s still a bare-subsistence equation. Too many workers still need public help for housing, food, and health care. It’s the kind of socialism that corporate types find tolerable.

But that’s a scam on taxpayers and a boon for corporations.

So of all the ideas Gov. Murphy raised in his budget address yesterday, here’s a modest one that should elicit cheers from any taxpayer who doesn’t want to subsidize corporate profits: Companies that have 50 or more employees on Medicaid will be asked to pay $150 per employee annually, in what the governor termed a “Corporate Responsibility Fee.”

Cheapskate Fatcat Shaming Tax is probably a more suitable term, but let’s not quibble.

It’s not a lot to ask, and in fact, it probably won’t make a dent in the $4.38 billion that our state pays annually for Medicaid.

But a fee is important, if only to remind these corporations that we know how they manipulate the federal employer mandate, which is part of the Affordable Care Act. Under the ACA, this play-or-pay mandate applies to employers with at least 50 “full-time equivalent” employees, who must provide benefits that meet certain minimum coverage requirements or pay a penalty to the IRS.

In New Jersey, many workers – particularly those at Wal-Mart or ShopRite - are part-timers, so under Murphy’s proposal, the large employers are still subject to the state fee if the workforce (both full-timers and part-timers) includes 50 Medicaid enrollees.

And even if the precise language is a work in progress, it’s good that the governor has raised this issue.

After killing the individual mandate as part of their tax overhaul in December of 2017, Republicans tried to take another meat axe to the ACA by repealing the employer mandate. The last election dampened that effort, but there is still uncertainty about our health care options.

“There is confusion and a lack of awareness, because there has been so much rhetoric – having a president who says ‘We killed the ACA’ adds to it,” says Linda Schwimmer, the CEO of New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute. “So this is good chance to improve public awareness of existing mandates and help increase enrollment.”

The fee itself may not raise much — perhaps $20 million or so, according to an NJ Advance Media estimate.

And it’s true that if a company with 51 employees on Medicaid chooses to incur the fee, it will pay only $7,650 if it is applied annually. That’s far less than even a monthly insurance payment for a workforce that size.

But we’re dealing with austere circumstances in New Jersey, and every bit helps – ask NJ Transit management about it sometime – so going forward, we hope this potential revenue receives a longer assessment and can someday lower the state Medicaid burden.

Because Murphy had it right: These corporations “should share in the burden of paying for their employees’ care,” he said, “rather than leaving it to the rest of us.”

The ACA needs to be funded, and employers must do their share. And they need to be reminded that we don’t all want to be in the burger business.

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