Wal-Mart already has 140 independently operated clinics in its stores across the country.
Wal-Mart may expand on its 140 in-store health clinics by partnering with outside vendors to provide chronic and preventative health care services for everything from HIV and diabetes to pregnancy testing.
“What they’re thinking is as the health care reform act rolls out and we have another 30 million people covered by some level of insurance, now these people will have to get access,” says Jeffrey Hoffman, health care strategist with consulting firm Kurt Salmon.
Wal-Mart issued a “Request for Information” at the end of October seeking partners to help the retailer develop a “low-cost primary care health care platform,” first reported by Kaiser Health News and NPR. In a statement Wednesday, Wal-Mart downplayed suggestions of a nationwide initiative, calling its own plans “to build a national, integrated,” system, “overwritten and incorrect.”
The chain already has 140 independently operated clinics in its stores across the country, catering to walk-in patients. Now it’s trying to provide more comprehensive care by asking potential vendors to explain their qualifications and plans for providing continued services for chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, HIV, arthritis and high cholesterol.
“They’re trying to target the main middle class, working-class people who have more limited access to primary care,” Hoffman says.
In the request, Wal-Mart says it’s looking for partners that will “help dramatically drive down the cost of care.” But that has some people worried.
“On principle, I probably wouldn’t use a health clinic at Wal-Mart because I know that their goal is to provide product at the lowest cost to them, which would make me wonder if they would offer a quality service, or just the cheapest service,” says Janine Maffett, an executive assistant in Atlanta.
Hoffman also says Wal-Mart may be acting on the incentive to increase the number of customers in its stores. “Primary care is a low-margin business,” he says. “In addition to delivering primary care services very efficiently, they would also increase sales in stores by increasing foot traffic in stores.”
Still, others say Wal-Mart faces a challenge in marketing a serious service such as health care to customers who frequent the stores for bargain shopping, but aren’t necessarily willing to bargain with their health.
“It’s one thing to pick a TV or blender off the shelf, another thing to trust your medical care to someone,” says Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “They have a challenge there. It’s a brand associated with low prices but not necessarily high quality.”
But Levitt says any effort to expand primary care accessibility is “a good thing,” a sentiment echoed by Kathy Lawver, an accounts receivable administrator in Beloit, Wis.
“For those with low incomes or who don’t have health insurance coverage, it may be a great idea,” she says.
Via USA Today