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Walmart to Widen Healthcare Benefits

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According to Reuters, retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT - Free Report) has decided to offer health care benefits to domestic partners of its U.S. workers, effective from Jan 1, 2014.

The health care benefits will cover legal spouses and domestic partners of the same or opposite sex, sharing an exclusive relationship for at least a year and intending to continue sharing a household in the long term. Enrollment for the program will start from Oct 12 and end on Nov. 1.

Walmart's extension of health insurance to domestic partners comes after the U.S. Supreme Court forced the federal government in June to recognize same-sex marriages in states where it is legal. Walmart has therefore decided to have one uniform health insurance policy for all 50 states, independent of each state’s definition of what marriage, domestic partnership or civil union entails.

Thus, the spouses and domestic partners of Walmart U.S. workers will now be covered in medical, dental, vision, life, critical illness and accident plans.

Walmart stated that more than half of its 1.3 million U.S. workers participate in health care plans and about 1.1 million Wal-Mart workers and family members jointly participate in Walmart's health care plan. These health care programs are expected to benefit a large number of full-time and part-time U.S. workers.

Being the largest private employer in the U.S., Walmart has always been concerned about its workers and employees. Last week, Walmart along with nearly 500 suppliers and 1500 government officials came forward at the U.S. Manufacturing Summit to discuss opportunities to accelerate manufacturing and employment opportunities in the country. Together, they are expected to invest more than $70 million for factory growth and creation of more than 1,000 domestic jobs.

By bringing together both the public and private sectors in the summit, Walmart helped create innovative solutions to make production in the U.S. affordable. Some of the companies including General Electric Co. (GE - Free Report) have joined forces with Walmart to augment domestic manufacturing operations.

Of late, the U.S and some international markets have been witnessing a challenging retail/sales environment. Consumers have become more conscious about their spending habits and avoid any unnecessary expenses. The restrained consumer spending environment in the U.S. emanated from weak pay and a tepid rate of hiring.

Besides this, the recent hike in payroll taxes and higher gas prices have curbed consumer spending, which led to lackluster sales. Lower and middle income consumers have also had to bear the brunt of higher payroll taxes, which increased 2 percentage points since Jan 2013.

This initiative shows Walmart’s dedication to find innovative solutions to fix unemployment issues utilizing its leadership position. Walmart also took an initiative in late-Jan 2013 to contribute to the revitalization of the sluggish U.S. economy and intends to spend $50 billion in the next 10 years to buy more American merchandise.

Walmart currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). However, stocks in the retail supermarket industry, which are attractive for investment include SuperValu Inc (SVU - Free Report) and Etablissements Delhaize Fr , both of them carrying a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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