That sound you hear emanating from the northwest corner of Arkansas is the unmistakable wail of corporate CEO's in agony.
The reason for their discontent: yesterday, in a 88-50 vote, the Maryland House of Delegates joined their senate counterparts in over-riding Gov. Paul Ehrlich's veto of the Fair Share Health Care Act. The bill, which takes effect in 30 days, mandates that any company with over 10,000 employees -- i.e., Wal-Mart -- must pay 8% of their payroll for health benefits, or pay the state for the workers forced onto Medicaid and other public assistance programs thanks to the company's low wages and benefits (which several liberal bloggers oddly defended last year).
Wal-Mart responded with a meek statement that it was "evaluating its options" and condemning "special interests," the first sign that they were taking this badly. Then the vaunted "war room," comprised of former GOP and Democratic flacks, spun into action with more details:
"There are 786,000 uninsured people in the state of Maryland and less than one-half of one percent work for Wal-Mart. Clearly, the legislators who voted for this bill have let down hundreds of thousands of Marylanders in need.
"More than three-fourths of Wal-Mart associates have health insurance. And every Wal-Mart associate in Maryland -- both full-time and part-time -- can become eligible for health coverage that costs as little as $23 per month.
That's the best they've got? A diarist at DKos named JR Monsterfodder makes quick work of this canned defense:
Let's take this pity party apart, one point at a time:
Wal-Mart tells you how much it cares about affordable health care, but it says nothing about the quality of that healthcare ... Wal-Mart's cheapest healthcare plan has a $1000 deductible. The most expensive plan has a deductible of $350. No wonder Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said last year: "In some of our states, the public program may actually be a better value - with relatively high income limits to qualify, and low premiums."
About those 786,000 uninsured Marylanders: Thanks for endorsing national health insurance. Hillary Clinton's office will be contacting you for a letter of endorsement shortly.
Next point. More than three quarters of Wal-Mart associates may have health insurance, but Wal-Mart is only paying for the insurance of 48% of them. Again, this is a signal of how lame Wal-Mart's health insurance program really is. If it was any good, more of their employees would elect to enroll.
This raises a good point. Yesterday's vote will not only benefit Maryland Wal-Mart workers, as well as workers in 30 other states where Wal-Mart Watch and other groups will be pushing for similar legislation.
The Maryland vote has also put the idea of universal health care on the nation's radar. Corporate America, eager to fend off escalating health costs for their workers, has always been a silent but major potential ally of public health insurance. To date, most big companies have deferred to their buddies in the insurance industry in keeping our faultering for-profit health system alive.
But if a few more states pass Fair Share Health Care-type legislation, forcing companies to pay the true cost of employing their workers, Wal-Mart could become the biggest advocate around for a government-sponsored plan. Having the largest corporation in the world on your side might be just the push advocates for universal health care need.