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Wal-Mart Stores CEO Lee Scott, in a speech to the National Retail Federation (NRF) yesterday, called on the US government to fix the nation's health care system, which he said was in "crisis." Saying that spiraling out of control health care costs are one of the biggest challenges facing retailers, Scott said, "We believe it is time for the government to step in ... and get a handle on health care costs."

However, Scott reportedly did not offer examples of solutions that could be used to fix the health care crisis.

In addition, Scott used the platform to complain that the media mistreated the world's biggest company last year in its extensive coverage of the company - which included its role in the widening trade gap with China, a federal probe into the illegal hiring of aliens to work for its cleaning contractors, and gender discrimination suits.

Clearly displeased by the attention that Wal-Mart has received from people who want to sue it, Scott also called for tort reform, charging that when people win these lawsuits, lawyers end up making more money than the plaintiffs.

Saying that Wal-Mart has become the "poster child" for the problem of exporting jobs and sourcing product abroad, Scott said that the company wants to buy American and would pay more to put American products on its shelves. But, he said, "We can't tell the customer what to buy."

Scott also said that the problem of a widening trade gap could be traced to the cost of health care. Labor is cheaper outside the US, he said, not just because they are paid less money, but because foreign workers don't require the same investment in health care costs.

And speaking of foreign markets…Scott said that India and Russia are the countries most ripe for retail expansion, and that china - where Wal-Mart already has started opening stores - eventually could be as big a market for the retailer as the US.

In his comments at NRF, Scott noted that Wal-Mart is testing a 99,000 sq. ft. supercenter in Florida that he hopes will be a model for how a smaller, metropolitan area-focused supercenter can help it expand into new areas.
KC's View:
It hardly is going out on a limb to say that the nation's health care system is screwed up, though the irony is ripe when you consider that Scott is a CEO whose company often is accused of not providing sufficient health care coverage to its own employees.

We spoke to a source recently - someone in a position to know these things - who told us that when Wal-Mart started expanding in Florida, one of the company's main strategies was to hire the spouses of Publix employees. That way, the company figured, it could rely on Publix to absorb the health care expenses - which would allow it to compete more effectively with Wal-Mart and its brethren.

Might that be a glass house that Lee Scott is occupying down in Arkansas?

As for calling for tort reform, well, trial lawyers are another easy target. Sounds to us like maybe Wal-Mart is a little worried about losing more and more suits.

And if Wal-Mart thinks it is the center of media attention now, just wait. You want to become the world's biggest company with more employees than anyone else and an economy bigger than most small countries, you end up under the microscope. Being that big, we believe, means that you have more responsibilities than just to investors.

Finally, we're glad to hear that Wal-Mart is willing to spend more money to buy American. But actions speak louder than words.