CHICAGO, Apr 18 (Reuters) Wal-Mart Stores Inc., under pressure from critics who say that the world's biggest retailer pays poor wages and benefits, on Monday said it plans to reduce employee co-payments for certain prescription drugs to $3 from $10.
Wal-Mart also said that its previously announced plan to halve the waiting period to one year for part-time employees to qualify for health care would take effect on May 13.
The company will also offer health-care coverage for children of eligible full- and part-time employees as of May 13. That has been a particularly sensitive subject for Wal-Mart after a leaked internal memo showed that some 46 percent of Wal-Mart employees' children were uninsured.
Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. private sector employer with more than 1.3 million workers, is under fire from opponents who say that it pays poverty-level wages and provides such limited health-care benefits that some employees turn to government-funded Medicaid programs instead.
The retailer has taken steps to improve its benefits, including adding a lower-priced health-care plan that it intends to offer to nearly half of its employees by the end of 2006.
Wal-Mart said that starting in January 2007, employees can get generic prescriptions for common conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, or high cholesterol for a $3 co-pay instead of $10. It plans to offer discounts of about 20 percent on prescription drugs otherwise not covered on the health plan.
Wal-Mart also said it would give employees a 10 percent discount on healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables purchased in its Wal-Mart discount stores and Sam's Club warehouses clubs.
REUTERS CS GC0931