Employer mandates pick up another big business backer

Kelly Services goes on the record in support of a health insurance mandate, while Target and L.L. Bean keep their options open.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Aug. 12, 2009

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After Wal-Mart's announcement that it would back an employer mandate to provide insurance as part of President Obama's health system reform plan, a few companies, while not announcing support, have not ruled it out.

The most prominent company to announce backing of an employer mandate to contribute to the cost of its employees' insurance is Kelly Services, a national placement agency for temporary workers, based in Troy, Mich.

Jim McIntire, Kelly's vice president for public affairs, said, "Kelly would not oppose an employer mandate that was administratively feasible and was part of a plan that coupled meaningful insurance reforms and ... fairly muscular cost controls."

McIntire said the current system serves a certain population badly. Many people who want more flexibility to work outside of the traditional worker-employee relationship cannot because of a need to stay insured. He said an employer mandate with portability would allow Kelly to expand its talent pool.

Kelly currently offers insurance to all 650,000 employees it places but does not subsidize those plans. McIntire said the company realizes it likely would be liable for part of those insurance costs under a mandate. "An employer mandate might be the price of reform," he said.

Skeptics believe Wal-Mart's motivation for supporting an employer mandate has a similar ring to Kelly's -- not just that the firm believes it's the right thing to do, but also it gives the retailer a competitive advantage for talent.

Neil Trautwein, vice president and employee benefit counsel with the National Retail Federation, said there always will be diversity in company views. "But from all indications from our broad membership, most every retailer, except a couple of outliers, remains united against employer mandates and other bad proposals."

Other companies say they haven't ruled out employer mandates completely.

Target issued a statement to AMNews on July 24 saying it is "carefully monitoring developments surrounding employer-mandated health care coverage." That followed a Bloomberg News report that Target was set to announce its support of an employer mandate, an announcement that has not yet come.

Meanwhile, L.L.Bean said that based on what it has seen with attempts to use state government to expand insurance in its home state of Maine, it is considering "various health care reform proposals."

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