By  on February 8, 2007

WASHINGTON — The issue of health care costs brought together two longtime adversaries — Wal-Mart and organized labor.

H. Lee Scott, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., allied with Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, other labor groups and executives from AT&T and Intel, to launch a campaign here Wednesday to provide universal health care to millions of workers by 2012.

The Better Health Care Together coalition plans to petition the government for a major overhaul of the employer-based health care system. While they did not offer specifics, the business and labor leaders outlined and signed a set of four main principles: providing quality and affordable health care to every American, "dramatically" improving the value of every health care dollar, educating the public on the benefits of proper health care and calling for businesses, governments and individuals to support a new health care system.

"Unfortunately, the current health care system doesn't work for many Americans — 47 million people are uninsured," Scott said. "Health care costs are rising unsustainably and our nation's economic competitiveness is being hurt. We need to change the current system and we need to start now."

The coalition was to meet with Congressional and senior White House aides, and pledged to convene a national summit by the end of May. It also intends to recruit more business, labor, government and nonprofit groups to sign the principles.

Acknowledging the "risks" of a partnership with Wal-Mart, which opposes unionization of its workers, Stern said: "I chose to stand here today with several major corporations, some of whom, it's no surprise, I don't always agree with and some of whom I've been rather critical of, which is why this partnership of unlikely allies will offer even greater hope. America can't compete in a global economy when we ask our businesses to put the price of health care on the price of their products when their competitors around the world do not."

Scott, who a year ago announced an expanded Wal-Mart employee health care plan, said joining the coalition did not mean his company was making a further commitment to increase its health care spending and cover more of its workers."I think joining the coalition is part of moving the dialogue forward," Scott said. "We're glad that 90 percent of our people have health insurance and we're not pleased that 9 percent choose not to take health insurance."

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