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An Interview With Wal-Mart Spokesman David Tovar

In the post below, I offer some analysis of Wal-Mart's letter embracing, among other controversial elements, an employer mandate in health-care reform. Earlier today, I interviewed David Tovar, a spokesman at Wal-Mart. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Why an employer mandate? I can understand Wal-Mart saying it wants nothing to do with health-care reform. And I can understand Wal-Mart saying it wants a health-care reform that gets it out of the health-care business entirely. But why stop in the middle with an employer mandate?

We understand that others may have different opinions. Others in the business community may have different opinions. But for our business, this is the right thing to do. Every associate can become eligible for health care at Wal-Mart. And we think that a mandate, coupled with this trigger mechanism and other cost-savings measures, will eliminate waste and increase competitiveness.

But to sharpen the question, why an employer mandate rather than a plan that dissolves the employer market entirely? Why should Wal-Mart or GM or Cisco be involved in the provision of health-care coverage?

Look, this is the position that we took. We wanted to be part of the solution. We wanted to lend our voices to the momentum behind reform.

In your discussions with SEIU and the Center for American Progress, did you talk about specific figures in relation to the employer mandate?

No. I think this was a road map. I think as the debate continues we'd like to be part of the conversation.

I was surprised to see Wal-Mart embrace a "trigger" to enact automatic cuts if the system isn't able to constrain costs. Tell me about how that came to pass.

CAP did a paper on it. I think they had Bob Dole and Howard Baker working on it. We reviewed that and we think the mandate makes sense coupled with that type of a trigger. We think there needs to be both. We know the status quo is not an option and the present system is not sustainable. If we're going to agree to this type of mandate, we have to have that fail-safe, which is the trigger.

What comes now? Does your CEO call up legislators and lobby for these policies? Does it change your strategy when it comes to campaigns? What's the next step?

I'm not going to get into specifics of what next tactical things we do, but we'll continue to be engaged in the dialogue and share our viewpoint.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 1, 2009; 5:46 PM ET
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Ezra, you got rolled. He said nothing.

We of the Walmart watchers (see our blog have been speculating on Walmart's "change of heart".

This one slip seems to make sense came from a lobbyist who said "Target's health costs are lower". In other words by forcing other firms into a mandate Walmart is hoping that their costs will rise relative to their own and make them less competitive.

Everything Walmart does is focused on their bottom line. Claims of altruism or looking after employees are bunk.

Posted by: robertfeinman | July 1, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

He said nothing. I do not trust Wal-Mart and this is all about gaining some sort of competitive advantage. Having said that, I am pleased they came out with this position to help leverage the issues of employer mandate, trigger option/public option and MedPac. These actions could have a major impact on the debate.

Posted by: scott1959 | July 1, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

It's not getting rolled to conduct an interview with a tight-lipped source. Frankly, I think the most interesting parts of our exchange are the parts where he didn't say much, like on the question of employer-based insurance.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | July 1, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Actually the most telling part is the bit about the "trigger". Many people see this as a way to appear to be supporting change while actually doing nothing.

If the trigger is set right then insurers will be able to forestall it being activated by some very minor changes.

Recent history has shown how easy it is for policies to be diluted to nothing, like the new auto MPG standards, or the upgrade in MPG for the trade in clunkers program. What kind of environmental savings does a change of 2 MPG make?

The biggest changes in health care will require a change in attitude, how it is funded is secondary. After all the other developed countries that we compare to have a variety of funding mechanisms, but they all share a goal of cutting costs and measuring effectiveness.

The US default is the "spare no expense" for dying granny that is the norm. Even Obama admitted he fell for this type of appeal to guilt. People elsewhere are more willing to accept that people die and comfort and care is more humane (and cheaper) than heroic measures.

The bulk of cost is still related to end of life care. To do something about that requires a change in attitude, not who pays the bills.

Posted by: robertfeinman | July 1, 2009 11:09 PM | Report abuse

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