Wal-Mart Regrets Exec's Comments on Health Care for Immigrants

Last Updated Jul 30, 2009 12:00 PM EDT

Oops. Apparently Wal-Mart is not pleased with something one of its executives said about health care.

Wal-Mart recently announced its support for requiring large corporations to provide health insurance to their employees. But a Wal-Mart VP took things one step further last weekend while speaking on a health care panel at the annual conference of Latino group National Council of La Raza.

When asked the company's position on health care for undocumented immigrants, John Agwunobi, who oversees Wal-Mart's health and wellness business unit, responded, "We believe strongly that everyone should have access to affordable health insurance. Everyone."

The comment earned him applause and appreciative whistles from the audience, but Wal-Mart was not so happy. After Chicago's WBEZ reported the story, Wal-Mart made numerous calls to reporters and editors at the station, according to reporter Chip Mitchell.

Wal-Mart's media relations director, Greg Rossiter, and corporate affairs manager, Phillip Keene, insisted I miscast Agwunobi's point. They said he was talking about affordability, not extending coverage to illegal aliens. Keene asked us to remove the story from our Web site.
I can understand why Wal-Mart wouldn't want to be perceived as taking sides on such a hot-button issue as immigration. But first of all, asking the station to take down its story? Really?

And secondly, from a public health perspective (which is Agwunobi's background), what he said makes sense, regardless of one's position on immigration. As another panel speaker went on to mention, if we don't treat sick people who are in this country, whether they have permission to be here or not, they can get the rest of us sick. And nobody wants that.

  • Katherine Glover