Wal-Mart to provide benefits to partners of gay employees

Customers shop at a Walmart store on August 15, 2013 in Chicago, Ill.

The nation’s largest private employer, Wal-Mart, has announced it will provide healthcare benefits to domestic partners of full-time employees starting next year. The move could ripple through corporate America.

In the last decade the number of Fortune 500 companies to offer healthcare benefits to same-sex couples has nearly doubled according to the Human Rights Campaign. The University of Michigan’s Wallace Hopp says the trend is only growing.

"I think you’ve just seen the big domino fall here now," says Hopp. "I think the game is over -- this is the new norm."

As states change their definition of marriage, Wal-Mart said it wanted to offer a uniform benefit to its US workforce. The company is adding benefits, while employers like UPS are cutting health benefits to save on costs.

But Paul Fronstin with the Employee Benefit Research Institute says companies who offer these kinds of benefits are savvy. "They are trying to figure out where the sweet spot is between cutting benefits and enhancing benefits," he says. "To the degree you could offer something that your workers like that won’t cost you much -- I think employers are going to do that."
Wal-Mart doesn’t know how many people will sign up under its new policy. But a former employee says many current workers don’t earn enough as is, to get coverage.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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