I've seen some crazy stuff in my day, but this takes the cake. Apparently, Wal*Mart (or any large employer) is the newest attempt at creating a universal health care system, without having to go through the ugly business of actually convincing the voting population that it's a good idea. I've been meaning to write about this for a while now, and this is as good a time as any.
People scream bloody murder about health insurance costs right now, and junk laws like this are the result: treating the symptom, rather than the disease. The real problem, the reason that your insurance costs so much, is because the medical procedures cost a fortune. Pull out the last medical "bill" (and I use the term loosely, which I'll explain later) you received, and look at how much each line item costs. When an typical in-patient admission averages $6400, something isn't right.
Why this costs so much requires a little critical thought: think about how the money flows here. Does the consumer pay the bill? Nope. In the vast majority of cases, the largest part of the bill is borne by a health insurance company. Do they bill the consumer directly, then? Nope. Again, in the vast majority of cases, the health insurance company bills the consumers employer, because the employer ties that benefit to their compensation package. The consumer ends up paying a percentage of the actual cost (or often nothing at all, depending on the insurance plan), and bears a monthly cost taken directly from their paycheck for the insurance plan that the employer is usually helping to subsidize.
In other words, the only market forces at work here are between the employers, the insurance companies, and the medical industry. The bottom of this cost chain is the employer for all intents and purposes (because the employee has very little bargaining power over their benefit coverage), and to the employer, the cost of health insurance is an externality: it doesn't affect them directly, so they don't care if they get a good rate or not, unless they're using it as a strong incentive to attract employees (and usually that kind of motivation is short-lived; once the employees have signed, there's little incentive to negotiate for better rates and strain relations with another business). On the health insurance side, there's also very little incentive to negotiate better rates with the medical industry: if costs rise, they can simply raise rates or reduce coverage.
That's a long-winded way to get to this: the actual cost of health care is buffered from you both by a risk-mitigation industry (the health insurance company), and by your employer, neither of which really cares if the price goes up. In the face of that, free market forces don't work. But wait, there more.
Consider the other side of the coin: the health care professional. They're in the position of needing to base their rates on what the insurance industry will pay out, not on what the customer will pay, which insulates them from the tendancy of the consumer to shop around for a better deal. However, they also have the problem of liability; if they make a mistake, they get sued. Malpractice insurance to the rescue, right? Wrong. Once again, that insurance makes the cost of liability an externality to the doctor. The victim gets a ridiculous sum of money (ie. what the court sees that the doctor or hospital can pay, which is just a function of their liability coverage), the doctor continues business as usual unless it's something criminally stupid, and the insurance company just raises rates, because it's all externalities for them. As the insurance rates rise, the medical industry raises it's rates (because there isn't a consumer in the picture helping to force the price back to a reasonable level), and the cycle continues. (Notice how I didn't say that the lawsuit was the problem; if you receive poor service in any industry, you should have the right to sue to be "made whole" again. The problem is the resulting awarded payout, based on a mythical "ability to pay" that the doctor or hospital, on their own, would never be able to realistically pay without insurance.)
Notice the common thread here? The risk-mitigation companies. In the spirit of the free market, they've created an attractive product that people are buying like crazy...because it insulates them from the free market. Without risk, that capatalist idea just doesn't work right; it makes risk an external factor that doesn't really impact you that much directly, and it's made a mess of the health care system as a result. You see the same kinds of things with the automotive insurance industry, but on a less grandiose scale; my recent front-end collision racked up a $5000+ bill to our insurance company, but no reasonable person would pay that much money to have a similar level of repair done on their own, because paying $5 for every tiny fastener that needs replacement from the dealership is ridiculous.
So, to the link at the top that started this tirade: fix the problem, not the symptom. Making employers foot the bill for a broken system isn't the way to fix things. Real change requires actually putting more than a knee-jerk's level of thought into the problem.