Walmart Part-Timers, Meet Obamacare

Ester Bloom fumes:

Wal-Mart has decided to cut benefits for PT workers, even though the Wal-Mart empire has produced so much money that individual Waltons take up four spots on the list of Top 10 Richest People in America. Christy Walton is the 6th richest American with a fortune of $38 billion, Jim is 7th with a fortune of $36 billion, Alice is 9th with $34.9B, and S. Robert is 10th with $34.8. Come on guys.

Peter Suderman attributes Walmart’s change to failures of Obamacare:

You can see the kind of impact the law is having just by looking at the news. Walmart is dropping health plans for about 30,000 part-time workers, about 5 percent of its workforce, according to the Associated Press. Target, Home Depot, and other big retailers have made similar moves. The retail giant isn’t specifically citing Obamacare as the cause. But it’s almost certainly a factor.

Paul Waldman disagrees. He claims that “this development is actually a good thing, and it shows that the Affordable Care Act is working”:

So why is this a good thing? It may involve some hassle for individual employees, as they’ll have to go to the exchange to figure out what plan to get. But most of those Walmart workers will likely come out ahead. Someone who’s earning $9 an hour working 30 hours a week at a Walmart would be making $13,500 a year. Depending on what their spouse makes and what state they’re in, they could be eligible for Medicaid and pay nothing at all for insurance, or get substantial subsidies that would make a private plan extremely affordable.

Sarah Kliff also argues that the shift should be celebrated:

[F]inancial help [from the ACA] can be a big deal for those with lower incomes. Think of the 36-year-old Walmart employee here in Washington, D.C. who works 29 hours per week at the company’s average wage of $12.73 per hour. She earns just about $19,000 annually if she works every week of the year.

If Walmart doesn’t offer her insurance, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s subsidy calculator shows that she qualifies for a $1,751 subsidy from the federal government to help buy coverage on the exchange. With that financial help, she can buy insurance for as little as an $7 per month. As a low-wage worker, she gets some of the most generous financial help.

But if Walmart does offer her coverage, it becomes her only option. She doesn’t qualify for federal help and the $7 plan disappears. Walmart’s plan, meanwhile, is way more expensive. The average premium there works out to $111 per month.

David Graham views the move as simply a sign of the times:

Take a step back and this story looks like another milestone on the changing road of the American health care system, even if there are only 30,000 employees affected by this particular step. And it looks more like a symptom of the same underlying issues that inspired the Affordable Care Act, rather than like a result of that law. In announcing the move, Walmart cited the rising costs of health insurance. Big companies are seeing their costs rise, but they also don’t have to worry as much about keeping their employees well, since they can be sure that they’ll be insured through exchanges anyway.

Health-policy experts and wonks on both the right and left tend to look askance at the American system of employer-based insurance, which is essentially a historical accident. (They differ on what do in the post employer-based-insurance world, of course: Progressives want a universal national insurance system, while conservatives want individuals to deal with it themselves.) As more and more American workers leave employer-based insurance plans, for one reason or another, the end of this anomalous system seems closer and closer.