For Shame

Shaming: It's not just for sex offenders, drunk drivers, tax evaders and dangerous dogs anymore. The State of Wisconsin has set up a Web site ...
by | July 26, 2007

Shaming: It's not just for sex offenders, drunk drivers, tax evaders and dangerous dogs anymore.

The State of Wisconsin has set up a Web site that lists companies with 15 or more employees on BadgerCare, the state's health care program for poor families.

The underlying idea here is the same one that motivated Maryland's Wal-Mart law: Companies that don't provide their workers with health coverage or provide inadequate coverage end up driving more people to state programs, costing the state, and therefore the general public, money.

Maryland's law required companies with 10,000 or more workers in the state to dedicate at least 8% of their payroll spending to health benefits.  A federal judge overturned that rule last year.

If you can't mandate, why not guilt trip? That's what Wisconsin is trying to do.

Usual suspects Wal-Mart and McDonalds top the state's first list. They're followed by health care provider Aurora (irony alert!). Menards (a home improvement chain) and Wisconsin Hospitality (a restaurant operator) round out the top five.

Representatives of these companies noted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that they're some of the biggest employers in state. They also argue that, in some cases, employees choose part-time work over full-time work, just so they can stay on BadgerCare.

So will the shaming encourage these companies to offer more generous health benefits? The unflattering initial press coverage may give them pause (the Journal Sentinel's headline was "Who has staff using health care safety net?"), but journalists don't always have the attention span to stick with topics over time. Wait, what was I saying?

The question, therefore, may boil down to this riddle: If a state puts data in a PDF file on an obscure government Web site, does it still make an impact?  You don't have to be a philosopher to answer that one.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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