Tag Archives: Wal-Mart healthcare

How Does Wal-Mart Sleep at Night?

Let me preface this post by stating clearly that I’m a capitalist. I love business, I work hard to support myself and my family, and I’m no fan of gratuitous entitlements. At the same time, I believe fundamentally in human compassion. When it comes to the basic requirements of life and a healthy society–safety, shelter, nutrition, health–I believe we have an obligation as a society to ensure a minimum standard for everyone. And if practicality moves you more than compassion, then consider it a basic insurance policy against civil unrest and a cheap investment in social stability.

I consider this not only a human responsibility, but a corporate responsibility too. Corporations are simply a magnificaiton of the values and behaviors of individuals. So when I read about Wal-Mart suing one of its employees, a woman left brain-damaged after a serious auto accident, so that Wal-Mart could take her legal settlement to repay itself for healthcare payments made under her insurance policy, I can only say that words can’t convey the depth of my utter and abject disgust. The $417,000 that Wal-Mart just seized from a woman in a nursing home was set up in a trust to pay for her future care. Now it will go to offset the $470,000 Wal-Mart’s healthcare plan paid out for medical bills after the woman’s accident. To ensure they got the entire amount, Wal-Mart not only sued for the original payments, they sued for legal expenses and, I can’t even believe this while I’m typing it, interest

Sharon Weber, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, declined to discuss the details of the Shanks’ case, but said the company was obliged to act in the interest of the health benefits of its employees as a whole. "While the case involves a tragic situation, our responsibility is to follow the provisions of the [company health] plan which governs the health benefits of our associates," she said.

Keep in mind, this wasn’t some woman abusing the legal system to make some specious and ridiculously inflated claim for exagerated injuries. Not like, say, someone suing for millions of dollars because they spilled hot coffee in their lap. This is a woman who will live in a nursing home for the rest of her life. She won enough money to ensure an ability to pay future bills that would extend her care a fraction beyond the level of being a ward of the state. Wal-Mart took it all.

This is the new trend in U.S. healthcare. It’s not enough that we pay exhorbitant insurance premiums for crappy healthcare. Now many companies are starting to go after patients who receive a legal settlement to pay back medical expenses. So what is it, exactly, they are willing to pay for after collecting and banking our premiums? Of course, they couch it all in "the interests of our policy holders". Bullshit. For the $12-15 per year this represents to policy holders, out of the $10,000+ they pay in premiums, I guarantee policy holders would rather have the peace of mind that if, in the tragic event of a catastrophic injury requiring a lifetime of round-the-clock care, the company would leave them the hell alone and not seize every last penny like some mega-grinch.

I’m sorry. I love business. I do a lot of work for a lot of big companies, and I see a lot of good and bad things in the balance. But my notion of a functioning civil society does not have room for behavior like this. Wal-Mart is an abomination.