Wal-Mart supports new health initiatives

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Wal-Mart (WMT) says it will support the administration's plan require all companies to supply health care to their workers. In an exclusive story in The Wall Street Journal, the firm's action was described as "a major break with most other large companies." The cost of offering health care is obviously a tremendous financial burden for corporations, especially in a down economy.

Wal-Mart may have a selfish reason to take the action. The Senate is considering a bill to require companies with low-wage workers to provide health care benefits. But, that view may be cynical. Wal-Mart workers are poorly paid in many instances, so providing benefits may be critical to allowing them access to medical services that they could never afford without aid.

Wal-Mart also has its share of low-wage customers who come to the company's store to shop for goods that are usually more expensive elsewhere. Being viewed as friendly to cash strapped consumers is not a bad image for Wal-Mart to project.

Wal-Mart's move might be seen as entirely self-serving. But there is a chance -- at least a chance -- that the company has a conscience and has decided to do something for its workers that they could never afford on their own.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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