State Urged to Reveal Companies with Workers on Medicaid

Columbus Dispatch - November 17, 2005
   

Taxpayers could be paying health benefits as businesses profit

Columbus Dispatch

Democrats, union representatives and advocates for the working poor pushed state officials yesterday to disclose the names of Ohio companies with large numbers of employees who receive Medicaid.

The data, they said, are likely to show that taxpayers are spending millions to provide health insurance to employees of companies making huge profits.

“In states where this information has been gathered, we’ve learned that millions are being spent on such corporate welfare,” Sen. Marc Dann, D-Liberty Township, said at a Statehouse news conference. “We believe the same is true in Ohio.”

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services says it’s working to compile such a list, but it’s going to take time.

The names of employers must be removed from records that include the names of Medicaid recipients and other personal information. A bigger problem is the various ways that caseworkers list employers’ names.

For example, Wal-Mart, the state’s largest employer, appears at least 162 different ways, such as Wal-Mart Columbus and Wal-Mart Store 703, said agency spokesman Jon Allen.

“I’m hesitant to say when it will be completed, but we’re meeting every week on it,” he said.

Dann and others said the information is critical for state lawmakers, who have been struggling to rein in skyrocketing Medicaid costs. Ohio’s $9.5 billion program provides healthcare benefits to 1.7 million poor, blind and disabled residents. Cuts made in the recently passed state budget dropped 25,000 low-income parents from the program.

“The first thing we can do to rein in Medicaid costs is to expose companies guilty of costshifting and then force them to pay their fair share,” Dann said.

In March, Sen. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, introduced legislation requiring the state to generate such a report, but Senate Bill 103 has yet to get a hearing. A few months later, Policy Matters Ohio, a

Cleveland based research group, and The Dispatch and other media were turned down when they requested the information under Ohio’s public-records act. Last month, Job and Family Services announced it would try to compile the information.

“There is little doubt that this is a matter of concern for public policy-makers,” said Wendy Patton, policy liaison for Policy Matters.

She said such employer data have been disclosed in at least 18 states and in three — Hawaii, Illinois and Massachusetts — laws have been passed requiring annual reports on each employer and how many employees and their dependents are enrolled in Medicaid.

The data showed that in nine states, Wal-Mart had the largest number of workers and dependents on Medicaid, said Jonathan Liebowitz, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union Local 3, which represents 10,000 janitors and security workers in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

In Massachusetts, the top three employers of Medicaid recipients were Dunkin Donuts, Stop & Shop and Wal-Mart, at a cost of more than $3 million for coverage. No. 5 was the city of Boston, where more than 700 Medicaid recipients worked, according to the state report.

“Often you find it’s large companies who can do better,” Liebowitz said.

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