Sunday, February 10, 2008

Wal-Mart - Health Care Reformer?

From Massachusetts attorney David Harlow at the HealthBlawg comes this interesting new post about Wal-Mart, discussing Wal-Mart's purpurted innovations in the health care business: HealthBlawg: Wal-Mart: The 51st State?:

"When it comes to health care reform, I've long held the view that we should let the states act as laboratories, experimenting with new and different approaches to health care financing, delivery and quality assurance. Now it seems that Wal-Mart views itself as one more such laboratory. First it was promoting $4 generics, then it started offering more in the way of employee benefits (though it's drawn a line in the sand on employment-based health insurance), and now it's pushing a bold new PBM (pharmacy benefit manager) plan and getting directly into the retail clinic biz.

The PBM plan was predictably pooh-poohed by potential competitors.

The news came out today that
Wal-Mart will be getting into the retail clinic biz directly, through alliances with local providers, rather than continuing to lease space to outside operators -- one such operator suddenly closed up shop last week. Wal-Mart is looking at 2,000 clinics over the next 5-7 years. "The Clinic at Wal-Mart" will allow for greater standardization across all of these sites. I've discussed pros and cons of retail clinics in other posts...."
I am skeptical. It is hard for me to imagine anything good coming from Wal-Mart in the health care arena, but I admit I am biased after seeing the documentary High Cost of Low Price, which explained how Wal-Mart, in Massachusetts as well as many other states throughout the nation, worked the system to bleed the taxpayer, most remarkably by not insuring its own employees and having its employees sign up for taxpayer-funded benefits, such as MassHealth (in Massachusetts). Wal-Mart has been very successful at making huge profits on the backs of the taxpayers throughout the nation, in so many ways, including by setting up a system whereby public benefits are provided to its own working-poor employees, for whom the company has failed to pay a living wage. See the Facts in the Wal-Mart documentary.

Now we are supposed to trust Wal-Mart with innovative new health care ideas the states can emulate? It may be that we should, but if so, I would find that ironic to say the least. Looking to Wal-Mart for ideas on health care reform seems a little like looking to Chevron for innovative ideas in environmental protection.

This particular irony calls to mind for me the similarly disturbing fact that Hillary Clinton - the supposed progressive champion of women, labor, and health care - was once on the Wal-Mart Board from 1986 to 1992, when Wal-Mart was busy with its union busting, sweatshop labor, and anti-women policies, as a run-up to its successful maneuvering to make taxpayers pay what should have been some of its own costs of doing business, such as health care costs of its own underpaid employees. See the recent ABC news story on Hillary and Wal-Mart here: YouTube - Hillary Clinton on Walmart.

To be fair, Hillary has recently distanced herself from Wal-Mart and its policies, and I believe it is clear that Hillary's mind and heart are in the right place on health care, even if, as her own relatively unambitious positions indicate, our national prospects for universal coverage, and certainly for the single-payer system we really need, are much diminished. Of course, I may myself be in fact too optimistic about this, as AlterNet: TRex: Hillary's Heath Care Sham Won't Cure What Ails Us points out Hillary's universal health care plan is really a mandatory universal health insurance plan, probably no better than what Romney ushered in here in Massachusetts, and that is a health care reform for which the jury is still out.

But I think my point, as we wait to see what wonderful, innovative ideas come from Wal-Mart, is this: We should all question the far-too widespread, collective faith in Corporate America to solve our problems, especially when corporations are themselves such a huge part of these very problems.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

No comments: