Last week’s action by the Maryland state legislature to override the Governor’s veto of the so-called “Wal-Mart Law” could be the start of a dangerous trend. (See story at Yahoo! Finance).
According to the new law, any employer that employs more than 10,000 Maryland employees now will be required to spend at least 8% of its payroll on employee health care. If the employer does not spend that amount on health care, it must contribute that amount to the state’s Medicaid fund. Wal-Mart is the only employer that fits that criteria of having more than 10,000 employees and not spending at least 8% of its payroll on health care – hence the name of the legislation. Apparently, a majority of the Maryland legislature felt that it was necessary and appropriate to punish Wal-Mart for not providing health care to its employees, who then apply for state-subsidized public health programs.
Labor unions, which had been backing this new law, promised to take that battle to many more states. Critics of this new law fear that with the momentum gained by Maryland’s passage of the legislation other states not only could adopt similar measures but that other states could adopt more restrictive requirements, such as making the law apply to employers with far less than 10,000 employees.
In Pennsylvania, the legislature is considering a bill, HR 1336 [html – pdf], that would require the Pennsylvania Department of Health to gather and keep annual reports of all employers who have 20 or more “public health program beneficiaries,” who are defined as persons “who receive any type of health care assistance, including, but not limited to, medical assistance or other medical benefit, under a State government program.” Presumably this reporting program would be designed to alert Pennsylvania legislators whether there are any Pennsylvania employers who need to be “punished” like Wal-Mart in Maryland.
I will continue to watch the status of this legislation in PA, and I will report any movement of that bill. In the meantime, this dangerous state intrusion into the affairs of employers, while limited right now to Maryland Wal-Mart only, should be of concern to all employers, both public and private.