When Maryland’s legislature passed “fair share health care”- a measure designed to make large corporations like Wal-Mart pay more for their employees’ health insurance- advocates were able to point to large businesses who wanted to pass the bill, too. That blunted the opposition’s “anti-business” argument, according to Vincent DeMarco, President of Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.One of those Maryland companies was Giant Food, a 25,000 employee grocery chain owned by Royal Ahold, which also owns Stop & Shop. As Connecticut’s bill enters difficult political terrain, an endorsement from a large employer like Stop & Shop would be a significant boost. But unlike its counterpart in Maryland, so far the Connecticut grocer has been silent.Maryland’s Vincent DeMarco: Controversial health care bill is actually good for business.
Unionized employers like Stop & Shop face intense competition from Wal-Mart, because the latter’s lack of employee benefits means it can charge customers less for groceries. Since Stop & Shop’s wages and health insurance are much more generous, its groceries also cost more. It is no surprise, then, that Giant Food supported Maryland’s bill, which would force companies like Wal-Mart to pay a greater share of health insurance costs. Advocates hope the bill will even the business playing field between Wal-Mart and companies that pay decent benefits, like Giant Food.But Connecticut advocates report Stop & Shop won’t come to the table to help pass a similar measure here. Why not?“Stop & Shop does not have a comment at this time,” company spokesman Robert Keene said.In Maryland, business lobbying organizations vehemently opposed the bill and Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. issued a veto. However the Democratically- controlled General Assembly overrode it. Democratic legislative leaders in Maryland never would have pushed the bill if they couldn’t frame it as pro-business, DeMarco said today in a visit to Hartford.“It passed primarily because businesses providing health care were tired of subsidizing larger businesses that don’t,” DeMarco said, adding: “They have to- in their insurance premiums- cover the cost of hospitalizing uninsured people who aren’t covered. That was the impetus to get this passed.“When his coalition approached businesses with that message, DeMarco said they became sympathetic. “The vast majority of members of chambers of commerce would be helped by this proposal, because they wouldn’t be subsidizing companies that don’t provide health care,” he said.Connecticut’s bill faces a nearly impossible path in this year’s short legislative session. Republicans and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association vehemently oppose the idea, and Senate President Don Williams (D-Danielson) spoke skeptically about its chances for passage.