Aqueduct City of Mexico (Photo credit: SMU Central University Libraries)
The Huffington Post reported this month. Experts described that move as an attempt by Walmart to shift the burden of providing health coverage to the government -- specifically, to Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor.
Obamacare includes a dramatic expansion of Medicaid, one that will potentially extend health insurance to as many as 10 million people by 2016, according to the most recent Congressional Budget Office estimates. It would achieve this by expanding eligibility to include individuals with annual incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty limit -- currently $14,856.
A primary mission behind Obamacare was to ensure that people in low-wage service sector jobs -- which typically do not include health benefits -- would gain some form of medical coverage. But in a landmark ruling this year, the Supreme Court gave states the right to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. Republican governors in Texas, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Maine and South Dakota have subsequently signaled plans to do just that.
Many of these states share two traits: A large number of Walmart jobs, and extremely tight standards for Medicaid eligibility. In Texas, where more than 150,000 people work at Walmart, according to the company -- the largest number of any state -- an employed parent who earns more than 26 percent of the federal poverty line, or $4,963 a year for a family of three, is deemed ineligible for Medicaid. Jobless parents must make even less to qualify -- no more than 12 percent of the poverty line. Unless they are disabled, childless adults do not qualify in Texas regardless of their income.
After Walmart’s new policy takes effect in January, many part-time workers who stand to be denied company health benefits would eventually qualify for Medicaid once the Obamacare expansion takes effect in 2014. About of half of the roughly 1 million hourly Walmart employees in the United States earn less than $10 an hour, the company has previously disclosed.
But if states now threatening to forgo the Medicaid expansion follow through on those plans, many Walmart employees -- along with others in low-paid, service-sector positions -- run the risk of slipping through the cracks: They are likely to work too few hours to qualify for company benefits, yet earn too much to qualify for Medicaid under their states’ restrictive standards.