Meanwhile, Walmart has announced plans to become the “number one healthcare provider in the country,” through in-store counters to help customers to buy insurance on the private market and through new state healthcare exchanges.
The news startled Ronee Hinton, a 23-year old part-timer who makes $8.40 an hour as a cashier in the Laurel, Md. store. She didn’t know what to make of it and wasn’t sure if she would remain covered.
According to Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove, Hinton has worked more than 30 hours a week on average over the last year, and thus will continue to be eligible to purchase Walmart’s employee health insurance plans. For those who will not, coverage will continue through the end of the year, during which time a third-party firm will help affected employees purchase new plans.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of an interview with Hinton, posted before Walmart said she would continue to have health insurance coverage under the company’s benefits plan.
“I’m from Baltimore, originally. I had moved out to live with a friend. I started working at Walmart about a year and nine months ago now. Originally I started working there so I could work part time and go to school for nursing, because my mom is in the nursing home. So that was my original plan, and then eventually, with the work schedule and everything else, I was just working at Walmart. It varies. At the most, 30, 31, to 20. It changes every week.
I worked at Walmart before in Baltimore and then I moved to D.C., and I worked at a Harris Teeter, and McDonalds. Harris Teeter, their pay is really great, and I like it a lot. Actually I like Walmart as far as my coworkers and customers, I like interacting with customers.
At first you had to be permanent when I first started [to qualify for the health plan], but that’s not the case any more, you only have to work there for a year. So this year, I just qualified for it in February, they asked me which program I wanted to go into. And I decided to use Kaiser, which was really great. Starting in March, I just had doctors appointments.
But then in June, I found out I was pregnant, and I qualified for prenatal care through Kaiser. They take out $14.50 every 2 weeks. I guess I get a discount on my prescriptions and everything else. And that has been a big help, because all my doctors visits are free, and for the prenatal services, I would just have to pay less than I would. The closest one to me is Silver Spring, like 20 minutes, depending on traffic, it’s not that far.
A friend’s mom is letting me stay until I make enough to be on my own. It’s been kind of a struggle, with my mom in a nursing home. She had a brain aneurism a few years ago, so the state took her to the nursing home because none of her kids was able to take care of her. She’s doing better. she can get around on her own two feet, with someone with her.
I don’t go to school now, I’ve been working, trying to save. I wanted to go to school to either be a nurse or a home aid, so that way I can help my mom out and she doesn’t have to stay at a nursing home, and I could have a skill and make a living. [The baby’s father] is here in Baltimore. He’s doing as much as he can, but he’s looking for more work himself, looking for a second job. He already knows that I don’t make a lot and he’s going to have to help, especially once the baby’s born, I’m not even sure if I can go back to part time.
It’s crazy because I just heard about it yesterday afternoon. Everything is great because I’m going to Kaiser, which has helped me out, because the visits are free and they’re really good as far as babies and checkups, so it’s just a big blow, really just leaving me in the dark. Because nobody told me does this apply to me or how am I going to pay for it. I spent all this time to get the medical assistance, and now that they’re cutting it, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I was just at the store, I saw the store manager, assistant managers, everybody, and nobody said anything about it.
I heard a little bit about [plans available through the Affordable Care Act], but not a lot, because I was really dependent on Walmart. But I will look into it.
I have no idea at all, because none of the managers have talked to me. At this point I don’t really don’t know, I have to call and see, because I really have no idea. Usually my mom is good to talk to, but she doesn’t know much now, so I’ll ask friends and family about what to do.
There’s nothing really to say, it’s just really bad and depressing that you have to hear from outside that they’re cutting your insurance. They told us months in advance about the uniform change, and something important about this, they don’t give you warning, couldn’t put something on the board about it. So I hope that something happens that’s positive.”