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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Illinois Counts Cost of Workers on Public Coverage

Illinois Counts Cost of Workers on Public Coverage

October 19, 2006

Massachusetts released its report on private employer workers on public coverage last February. The cost in Massachusetts was over $240 million. Now Illinois has done the same study for their state. Just like Massachusetts, #1 and #2 -- Walmart and McDonalds. Here are some excerpts:

By Judith Graham and Barbara Rose, October 7, 2006

Hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers in Illinois are enrolled in public health programs, adding hundreds of millions of dollars in medical costs to the state budget, according to a new report. ... 363,506 workers from 3,270 companies obtained medical benefits from Medicaid, KidCare and FamilyCare between August 2005 and March. The cost of medical services received during that period: $335.7 million.

The study also looked at uninsured workers who get charity care at Illinois hospitals or who fail to pay all or some of their bills. Hospitals' charity bills for these workers came to $77 million during a recent eight-month period. Companies whose workers most often request subsidized care are a who's who of the service industry, including Wal-Mart, McDonald's, Burger King, Target, Jewel, Manpower and Kelly Services, according to the report. Also at the top of the list is the State of Illinois, which doesn't offer insurance to workers who provide in-home care for the elderly.

"This goes far beyond Wal-Mart or any other service industry provider. It's a much broader problem," said state Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston), who sponsored legislation last year mandating the new report. "The myth is that public health insurance has expanded because of individuals and families who have no employment. The reality is that enrollment is increasing because employers in retail and hospitality and other service sectors are failing to provide health insurance coverage to their employees."

Businesses contend they do the best they can to provide benefits while trying to stay competitive. "A lot of these folks are part-time workers and aren't eligible for benefit packages. It is not the responsibility of the employer community to solve all of the financial issues in people's lives," said David Vite, president and chief executive of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. ...

Based on the incomplete data, the cost of hospital charity care to 1,132 patients who identified themselves as Wal-Mart employees during a recent 12-month period totaled nearly $2.5 million, more than any other Illinois employer. Total costs can't be extrapolated from this partial data, experts warned. Wal-Mart employs more than 45,000 people in Illinois.

Company spokesman Dan Fogleman said the retailer is improving benefits, most recently by cutting the waiting time for eligibility for insurance to one year from two years and adding a health insurance plan that costs as little as $11 per month. "We are doing our part as an employer to provide affordable, accessible and secure health insurance," he said.

McDonald's ranked No. 2 after Wal-Mart, with medical costs totaling $2.4 million for 1,248 uninsured who said they worked for the fast-food chain. The Oak Brook-based employer and its franchisees employ more than 10,000 in Illinois, the majority employed by franchisees who set their own wage and benefit standards. "McDonald's workforce is diverse and cannot be defined as a simple one size fits all," the company said in an e-mailed statement. "It includes students, moms, dads and seniors who represent full-time and part-time employees and salaried managers in our restaurants." Workers at company-owned restaurants have access to health care, the statement said, but coverage for many young adult workers falls under their parents' medical programs.