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U.S. Chamber Warns States Against Employer Health Care Mandates

FEBRUARY 7, 2006 -- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Tuesday that state legislatures should not follow Maryland's lead with legislation that requires large employers to provide health insurance to their workers.

The Maryland General Assembly last month overrode a veto by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to enact a bill requiring companies with more than 10,000 workers in the state to spend at least 8 percent of payroll on employee health care or put that amount into a fund for the uninsured.

"Targeting big companies with politically motivated health care mandates on a state-by-state basis is not only unfair, it is illegal," Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue said in a statement. "These bills may prompt other states to try their hand at setting national policy, but they do nothing to address our nation's mounting health care crisis."

The measure has been dubbed the "Wal-Mart" bill because its supporters have charged that Wal-Mart, along with other employers, does not spend enough on health care coverage for its employees, thus shifting the financial burden for providing health care to uninsured Americans on to state and federal health care programs, including Medicaid.

Wal-Mart officials have said that more than three-quarters of the company's workers have health insurance, and employees are offered the choice of as many as 18 health plans that cost as little as $11 per month in some areas.

Labor unions and their allies are pressing in more than two dozen states for legislation similar to the Maryland bill.

The Chamber said it will back lawsuits filed by the Retail Industry Leaders Association challenging the law.

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