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outlined a plan Monday to expand health care benefits, saying among other things that it will start making the children of part-time workers eligible for company-subsidized insurance.

The initiatives are the latest in a corporate-image renovation aimed at softening Wal-Mart's reputation as a labor-unfriendly "category killer." On Sunday, the

Associated Press

reported that Wal-Mart is launching a plan to help small businesses stay afloat with grants and free advertising, even as it expands a retail dominance that has cost thousands of lesser competitors their livelihoods.

In addition to the expanded eligibility, Wal-Mart said Monday that it plans to lower to $3 from $10 the copayment its employees must foot for generic medicines treating common conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and infections. Discounts will be offered on prescription drugs not covered in the plan in January 2007.

The company will also halve the time it takes for part-time employees to become eligible for company sponsored benefits to no more than a year. It also pledged a higher contribution to health savings accounts and discounts for healthy food sold at its stores.

"Keep in mind that covering part-time employees is not the norm," Wal-Mart noted in a release. "But every American deserves health care, and we want to lead by taking this step. We hope that others in the retail community will work with us to do the same."

The company added a special enrollment period for new benefit recipients in mid-May, in addition to its usual October window. More than 150,000 part-time employees will be eligible for initial or enhanced coverage when the May period begins.