Aug 27 Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on
Tuesday it will offer health insurance benefits to domestic
partners of its U.S. employees starting next year.
The world's largest retailer, based in Bentonville,
Arkansas, also plans to begin to offer vision care to its
eligible employees and their dependents, according to
information the retailer sent to workers this week.
Wal-Mart is the single biggest U.S. employer outside of the
federal government. More than half of its 1.3 million U.S.
employees are on its health-care plans. The company said it does
not know how many workers would use either of the new benefits.
Wal-Mart's extension of health insurance to domestic
partners comes after the U.S. Supreme Court in June forced the
federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in states
where it is legal. The Supreme Court also paved the way for
same-sex marriage in California.
"Since we operate in all 50 states, we thought it was
important to develop a single definition for all Wal-Mart
associates in the U.S.," spokesman David Tovar said.
Employees' domestic partners can be covered if they are
legal spouses, not legally separated; or a domestic partner of
same or opposite gender in an ongoing, exclusive relationship
similar to marriage for at least 12 months with the intention to
continue sharing a household indefinitely, he said.
Wal-Mart confirmed some details of its 2014 annual
enrollment to Reuters ahead of the sign-up period, which runs
from Oct. 12 to Nov. 1. The company outlined changes to its
plans on a postcard mailed to employees this week.
Wal-Mart said it began planning for the implementation of
the U.S. Affordable Care Act years ago and did not make any
additional changes to its plans in order to conform.
The healthcare reform act requires companies with more than
50 employees to offer health insurance for employees who work 30
hours a week or more.
About 1.1 million people, including workers' family members,
are currently covered by Wal-Mart health-care plans in the
United States. Not all of the company's U.S. employees sign up
for coverage. Part-time employees must work for Wal-Mart for one
year and work an average of 30 hours a week to qualify.
Last week, United Parcel Service Inc told non-union
employees that their spouses would no longer qualify for
company-sponsored health insurance if they could get coverage
through their own jobs. Starbucks Corp
Chief Executive Howard Schultz said on Monday that his company,
which provides healthcare to employees who 20 hours a week or
more, would not cut health benefits or reduce hours for
employees in anticipation of the U.S. Affordable Care Act.
Wal-Mart's U.S. employees are set to pay 3 percent to 10
percent more for their medical coverage next year, depending on
the plan chosen.
The lowest-priced and most popular plan for a Wal-Mart
employee is set to cost $18.40 per bi-weekly pay period next
year, up 5.7 percent from $17.40 this year, the company said.
Average U.S. total health care costs per employee were
expected to reach $12,136 this year, up 5.1 percent from $11,457
in 2012, according to a report released by the National Business
Group on Health and Towers Watson in March. That 5.1 percent
increase would be the lowest percentage rise in 15 years, down
slightly from a 5.2 percent increase in 2012, they said.
A large majority of Wal-Mart's workers who sign up for
medical coverage also sign up for dental coverage. Wal-Mart said
it would start to offer vision coverage in 2014 after employees
asked for it.
"There's no one size fits all solution for people's
benefits, so we're trying to offer a number of benefit options
and then let associates make choices on what's best for them,"
Dental and vision coverage are offered for additional fees,
which for an individual are about $7 and $2 per bi-weekly pay
Wal-Mart's benefits administrators are Aetna Inc,
UnitedHealth Group Inc's UnitedHealthcare and Blue Cross
Blue Shield, depending on the location of a particular worker.