NRF "Flabbergasted" By Wal-Mart's Support of Obama Health Plan

Given that many retailers don't supply employees with health care, it's no big surprise that the National Retail Federation is against any legislation that would require companies to supply insurance to employees. It would raise costs at companies that are already under a lot of strain. The federation, however, has found itself at odds with the biggest retailer in the country. Wal-Mart has come out in support of the drive to make companies provide insurance. It's the lead story in today's Wall Street Journal.

Of course, Wal-Mart has a very clear motive for backing this legislation that has nothing to do with it caring about improving the health care situation for Americans, of which something like 50 million have no health insurance. Wal-Mart may support this effort because it will affect its competitors more than it will affect Wal-Mart, which already offers some coverage to employees. It could see this as a way of driving up the costs at companies that are trying to compete with it.

NRF's position on health care can be viewed in this letter, dated January 2008. Its federation doesn't believe companies should be mandated to provide insurance. It also is against the idea of a value-added tax to fund health care reform. Both of those tactics would hurt its members. The first would raise costs for retailers directly. The second could hurt sales by cutting back on how much consumers spend. Instead, the NRF recommends that the U.S. "consider requiring individuals to obtain insurance coverage." Essentially, it wants the burden to fall on individuals rather than companies.

The NRF also supports implementation of health information technology--digitizing medical records--as a way of saving costs. It supports tax credits for individuals or small businesses to make coverage more affordable. There are other bullet points in the letter as well.

At any rate, NRF's Neil Trautwein appeared this morning on CNBC to argue against the Obama plan. Trautwein never directly answers the question about who should pay for expanding coverage in this segment--not coming out in support of government-sponsored or employee-sponsored health care. The NRF letter seems to come down on the side of what's being done in Massachusetts--with residents being mandated to buy insurance.

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