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Wal-Mart expands benefits to include same-sex couples

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

The nation’s largest private employer — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — expanded the parameters of its company benefit package to include spouses of full-time employees and domestic partners.

A postcard was sent out to employees this week detailing several changes to the company’s health plan for 2014, according to Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove.

He said Wal-Mart did expand coverage eligibility for any spouse or domestic partner of a full-time employee which includes, medical, dental, a new vision option, critical illness and accident plans. Hargrove told The City Wire that domestic partners would be eligible beginning in 2014, during the enrollment period starting Oct. 12.

Wal-Mart joins a long list of Fortune 500 companies including Costco, Ford, Home Depot and Best Buy to offer health care benefits to same-sex partners. The civil rights group, Human Rights Campaign, estimates 62% of Fortune 500 companies have already done so. HRC said inclusion efforts have increased from 34% in 2002.

Often a target of criticism by labor groups, the retail giant was praised today by HCR for “adding gender identity and expression to its employment non-discrimination policy.” 

“What matters in the workplace is how you do your job, not your gender identity or sexual orientation,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “As the nation’s largest private employer, Walmart shows that doing the right thing is also good for business. We urge them to continue to move forward by ensuring all of their LGBT employees receive equal benefits.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling in June to recognize same-sex marriage will undoubtedly mean more employers tweak their benefit packages to comply with federal law, especially since 13 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages.

Hargrove said benefits for domestic partners is one part of the company’s ongoing effort to provide affordable, comprehensive medical coverage for its employees. He said this is also the first year Wal-Mart has offered a vision plan in its benefit package. In addition, a program known as Expanded Centers of Excellence will provide participants 100% coverage for hip and knee joint replacements as well as certain heart and spine surgeries.

Wal-Mart also is providing participants the opportunity to comparison shop for certain health care procedures with a new online tool – Castlight – that searches for doctors and medical services based on cost and quality reviews.

Hargrove said health insurance premium increases would be 3% and 10% depending on the coverage plan chosen, and are the lowest increases in several years.

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Wal-Mart employs roughly 1.3 million in the U.S. and more than half of its workers participate in the company’s health care plans

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