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Walmart drops health insurance for 30,000 part-time workers

Walmart will eliminate health insurance coverage for 30,000 part-time workers nationwide as the retail giant seeks to curb rising health-care costs.

Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, said beginning Jan. 1 it will no longer offer health insurance coverage to employees who work less than 30 hours each week. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer had largely phased out health insurance for part-time workers over the past three years, and Tuesday's announcement eliminates coverage for 5 percent of the company's part-time workforce.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant is Arizona's largest private employer with about 32,000 employees across 121 stores in this state. A company spokeswoman could not say how many part-time workers of family members in Arizona will will lose employer-provided health insurance. The move is effective Jan. 1.

Walmart's move comes as the Affordable Care Act requires larger employers to offer health insurance to full-time workers who work 30 or more hours a week or face a penalty. The part-time workers may be eligible to purchase subsidized health insurance through the federal marketplace. The federal law requires most people to secure health insurance or pay a penalty.

Other large national retailers such as Target and Home Depot have dropped health insurance coverage over the past year for part-time employees.

RELATED: Census report shows a small drop in Arizona's uninsured

Walmart, which employs about 1.4 million full- and part-time U.S. workers, says about 1.2 million employees and family members now are covered through the employer's health-care plan. That coverage will cost about $500 million for the current fiscal year, or about $170 million higher than the original estimate of about $330 million that it gave in February.

While part-time employees will lose coverage, Walmart said it will offer a new partnership with Mayo Clinic that could benefit some cancer patients.

Employees or dependents who are diagnosed with the three most common types of cancer – breast, colon and lung cancers – will be eligible for an external review of their medical situation by Mayo Clinic. These people will still get their primary care through their oncologist, but they can request Mayo Clinic doctors also review their medical records.

Dr. Wyatt Decker, president of Mayo Clinic in Arizona, said the arrangement may open new options for the patient such as a clinical trial or a new treatment that is unavailable in their community. Employees or dependents could be eligible for 100 percent coverage of medical treatments and travel costs for the patient and a caregiver, Walmart said.

Mayo has cancer center clinics in Phoenix, Rochester, Minn. and Jacksonville, Fla.

Decker said he does not know how many Walmart employees or dependents could use the arrangement, but he said it could potentially bring some patients to Arizona from other Western states. He said of the 17,000 Walmart employees or covered dependents who have cancer, 9,300 have breast, colon or lung cancer and would presumably be eligible for the program, which is effective Jan. 1.

"There's some uncertainty in terms of how often it will be used," Decker said. "We potentially will bring patients to Phoenix from all over the Southwest."

Walmart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said the cancer-care program will be available to all eligible patients who are covered by any Walmart health plan. The retailer's least expensive health plan, in which 40 percent of its workers are enrolled, will cost employees $21.90 per pay period, up from $18.40, starting Jan. 1.

On Monday, Walmart said it is teaming up with an online health insurance agency called DirectHealth.com to help customers shop for health insurance plans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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