Following the lead of other large companies, Wal-Mart said Tuesday that it will offer health insurance benefits to U.S. employees' domestic partners starting next year.
The world's largest retailer also plans to begin to offer vision care to its eligible employees and their dependents, according to information Wal-Mart sent to workers this week.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based company is the No. 2 employer in the U.S., after the federal government. More than half of the 1.3 million workers in this country are on its health-care plans. Wal-Mart said it does not know how many workers would use the new benefits, which also include free hip and knee joint replacements.
In June, the Supreme Court forced the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in states where it is legal and paved the way for same-sex marriage in California.
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"Since we operate in all 50 states, we thought it was important to develop a single definition for all Wal-Mart associates in the U.S.," spokesman David Tovar said.
Wal-Mart is behind many other large companies on health coverage for domestic partners. Sixty-two percent of the Fortune 500 already offer such benefits, according to the Human Rights Campaign's 2013 Corporate Equality Index.
Domestic partners can be covered if they are legal spouses not legally separated; or a domestic partner of the same or opposite six in an exclusive relationship similar to marriage for at least 12 months, with the intention to continue sharing a household indefinitely, Tovar said.
Wal-Mart confirmed some details of its 2014 annual enrollment to Reuters ahead of the sign-up period, which runs from Oct. 12 to Nov. 1. The company outlined plan changes on a postcard mailed to workers this week.
The 2010 Affordable Care Act will require large employers to offer coverage to certain part-time workers beginning in January, but Wal-Mart said it had anticipated the change and did not need to make further adjustments.
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The goals include broadening coverage, and the law requires companies with more than 50 employees to offer insurance to those working 30 hours a week or more.
About 1.1 million people, including workers' family members, are covered by Wal-Mart health-care plans in the United States. Not all of its U.S. employees sign up for coverage. Part-time employees must work for Wal-Mart for one year and work an average of 30 hours a week to qualify.