This intriguing blog post by Michael Cannon, the libertarian Cato Institute's resident healthcare guy, got me thinking more about the news Tuesday that Wal-Mart supports a federal mandate that most employers provide health insurance. According to Cannon, it isn't all that surprising.
First, a recap: After a meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Wal-Mart released a letter it delivered to President Obama backing the mandate. Wal-Mart President and CEO Mike Duke, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andy Stern and Center for American Progress President John Podesta signed the letter.
Naturally, this raised some eyebrows in Washington. It also undoubtedly raised some folks' blood pressure in the corporate headquarters of Wal-Mart's competitors.
Speaking of those competitors, Cannon tells a story about a chat he had in a taxicab with an unnamed Wal-Mart lobbyist, who told him two years ago that the company wanted to see a so-called employer mandate on the books. (These days, Democrats are calling it "shared responsibility." I'll skip the Newspeak and stick with the old name).
So what's the giant retailer's ulterior motive? Why, screwing Target of course!
... [I]t all became clear when the lobbyist explained the reason for Wal-Mart's position: "Target's health-benefits costs are lower."
I have no idea what Target's or Wal-Mart's health-benefits costs are. Let's say that Target spends $5,000 per worker on health benefits and Wal-Mart spends $10,000. An employer mandate that requires both retail giants to spend $9,000 per worker would have no effect on Wal-Mart. But it would cripple one of Wal-Mart's chief competitors.
That certainly would partially explain why America's second-biggest company and single largest employer (2 million workers!) would break away from the rest of the business community to support the employer mandate.