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Originally published December 1, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 1, 2006 at 2:47 PM

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Wal-Mart again tops Washington state health-care subsidy list

Wal-Mart again has been listed as having more workers on Medicaid and Washington's Basic Health Plan than any other private employer in the state.

TACOMA – Wal-Mart again has been listed as having more workers on Medicaid and Washington's Basic Health Plan than any other private employer in the state.

According to a state compilation of enrollments in June, Wal-Mart had 3,194 employees in the two taxpayer-subsidized health care programs out of 16,000 employees in the state, while McDonald's was second with 1,932 and Safeway — also with a work force of about 16,000 in Washington — was third with 1,302.

By comparison, the figures in a confidential report for 2004 showed Wal-Mart with 3,180 workers in taxpayer-supported health care programs, McDonald's with 1,824 and Safeway with 1,712.

Union leaders and their supporters around the country have sought legislation to require that large employers spend at least 9 percent of their payrolls on health care or pay the difference to help finance state health care plans. Otherwise, they have argued, businesses essentially can push health care costs onto taxpayers.

A bill that was enacted in Maryland was struck down in federal court this summer. A similar measure died in the Washington Legislature after House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, refused to advance it.

The report presented to legislators Thursday estimated that assistance for Wal-Mart employees will cost the state around $9 million this year out of a total of $600 million for all workers in Washington who receive such aid.

"I hope this report will serve as a kind of catalyst," said state Rep. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, chairman of the House Commerce and Labor Committee and secretary-treasurer of United Food and Commercial Worker's Union Local 81.

When the earlier report was leaked last spring, Wal-Mart officials said the Bentonville, Ark., company's health plan had improved since 2004.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Jennifer Holder questioned the latest figures.

"I don't think its an accurate picture of who is using the system most," Holder told The News Tribune on Thursday.

She also said Wal-Mart hires many people who are on public health assistance and has found some are reluctant to switch health plans.

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