Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Saturday, February 18, 2006

"Rep. Chopp right to kill insurance measure"

Bravo to Steve McClure for his op-ed piece on the Washington "Wal-Mart Bill" in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News.
Health insurance is not an issue or an expense that rests solely on the shoulders of the nation’s largest retailer.

Despite intense pressure from labor unions, the Washington Legislature’s speaker of the house recognized that fact and effectively killed a bill that was aimed squarely at Wal-Mart.

Democrat Frank Chopp instead is pushing for a study that looks at the overarching issue of health insurance and exposes more employer data to public scrutiny.

If the overriding issue is the corporate benefits packages offered to Washington residents, legislation can’t be aimed at a single company.

For all the smiley faces that appear in its advertising campaigns, Wal-Mart has become something of a lightning rod in terms of health insurance for employees. The company’s hard-line against labor unions has made it a target for organized labor — the driving force behind the bill Chopp killed last week.

Unions lobbied furiously for the measure, which would have required companies with 5,000 workers to devote 9 percent of their payrolls to health benefits. Those not meeting the standard would have to pay into taxpayer-funded health programs.

It was similar to measures being pushed in more than 30 states by organized labor, and the key target has been Wal-Mart.

But the issue of health insurance is not limited to Wal-Mart, a fact reinforced last week in Olympia when it was revealed that, numerically, the state has about the same number of employees hitting up the state for taxpayer-supported health insurance.

Regardless of what you think of Wal-Mart, this issue goes beyond a single company.

Corporations, like the state, are constantly dealing with the rising cost of health insurance.

Lawmakers need to address the corporate world as a whole if they believe health insurance benefits offered by private industry aren’t adequate, or that poor benefits and pay push people onto the state-funded programs at an undue expense to taxpayers.

If the issue is worth debating when the target is a convenient one, then it’s worth debate when other industries are involved.
With all the hot air blowing around the Palouse these days about Wal-Mart, Steve's column is a welcome breath of rational fresh air.

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