WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress introduced legislation Wednesday that targets Wal-Mart and requires states to track and disclose the number of employees receiving publicly supported health care.

Sens. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) and Jon Corzine (D., N.J.), and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.) outlined the Health Care Accountability Act at a Capitol Hill news conference. States would have to monitor workers receiving government-subsidized health care, such as Medicaid, at firms with more than 50 employees, although only Wal-Mart was mentioned by the elected officials.

In the 15 states that already track such information, Wal-Mart employees and families receive more than $210 million in government healthcare — $61 million in Florida alone — according to wakeupwalmart.com, which lobbied for the proposed legislation and is funded by the United Food & Commercial Workers Union.

“Every American worker across this country is contributing a part of their taxes into paying for health care for those families that are at need that work at Wal-Mart,” Kennedy said. “Wal-Mart doesn’t believe that they ought to pay their fair share for health insurance for their employees.”

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company supports transparency as long as it includes all U.S. employers.

“It’s long past time for meaningful reform of our health-care system,” the spokesman said. “This issue is much broader than Wal-Mart.”

The spokesman said the company was being unfairly targeted.

“We have always offered quality health care to our associates,” he said. “We are there for our associates and their families.”

With sales of $285 billion, Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., has been criticized for providing inadequate employee wages and benefits. Wal-Mart has launched a public relations campaign to rebut opponents, saying it provides jobs, generates tax revenue and provides wages and benefits that compare favorably with other retailers.

Weiner, a candidate for mayor of New York, said a national picture of public health-care costs would inject the debate about Wal-Mart’s impact on society with more fact-driven force.

“What this legislation will do is allow us to also really find out how much that dollar that we’re saving for a pair of jeans [at Wal-Mart] is costing us in other ways,” he said.

This story first appeared in the June 23, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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