America’s largest employer is scaling back its health benefits, jacking up premiums for full-time workers by as much as 40% and eliminating coverage altogether for many part-timers, Walmart told employees this week. The company blamed rising costs for the move, telling the New York Times that it has nothing to do with the new health care reform law. “The decisions made were not easy,” a spokesman said, “but they strike a balance between managing costs and providing quality care.” From now on, employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average won’t be eligible for coverage. New hires who work between 24 and 33 hours will qualify, but won’t be allowed to add a spouse to the plan (kids, however, can be added).
The Times talks to one Placerville, Calif., employee, who says her premiums will jump from $260 a year to $468—and her annual deductible will rise from $1,000 to $5,000. She earns $19,000 a year. Another 2012 change: Employees who smoke will have to pay a $260 to $2,340 penalty to get insurance. The moves come just a few years after Walmart expanded its coverage to more of its part-time employees in the first place, under pressure from states sick of having them on the Medicaid rolls. More than half of large employers don’t cover part-timers.