Suburban Atlanta is ground zero for the promising new initiative by Walmart. The retail giant is using an unassuming store in Dallas, Georgia to test out a new health care center.
And the repercussions for underserved Americans could be huge.
Next to Dallas’ Walmart Supercenter is the nation’s first “Walmart Health,” where patients receive affordable care for everything from routine checkups to ongoing treatment for chronic illnesses.
While the prospect of paying medical bills without health insurance remains daunting, “Walmart Health” alleviates patients’ concerns with transparent and affordable prices.
For an adult without health insurance, the bill for an annual physical at “Walmart Health” is $30. An eye exam for a person in the same category is $45. Dental exams come out to $25. Therapy sessions go for $60. Prices that suddenly make these services accessible to millions of people – and without government intervention or a single-payer system.
It is a promising sign for the roughly 30 million Americans who don’t have health insurance.
Besides the uninsured, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon believes his company has the opportunity to cater successfully to consumers with high deductibles and out of control out-of-pocket expenses.
Walmart’s transparent health choices, along with more employers moving employees to Flexible Spending Accounts, are the best ways to fix seemingly implacable problems associated with U.S. health care. Insurance companies and the healthcare industry have long-sought to keep healthcare expenses opaque to consumers, allowing costs to spiral out of control.
Other underlying issues with the healthcare system present opportunities for Walmart: particularly in rural areas, where fewer primary care options exist.
In many of these communities, America’s dominant retailer’s burgeoning health care arm could become the only game in town.
But McMillon’s vision shouldn’t be confused with CVS’ Minute Clinics and other urgent care centers.
The fresh-faced executive envisions replacing millions of Americans’ primary care physicians with Walmart-employed doctors, bringing patients into their clinics on a routine basis.
The idea, at least on paper, is resonating. Harvard Medical School’s Ateev Mehrota says that other expanded clinics are already providing critical care to underserved communities.
Already Walmart has pharmacies and optical departments. In recent years the chain has opened small health care clinics with limited services across the deep south with success.
The company posted annual revenue of $37.5 billion from these services in 2019. But the new facilities outside of Atlanta go far beyond the chain’s past forays into healthcare.
Meanwhile, the prospect of a coordinated smear campaign by activists with anti-corporate bias is real. A subtler, more sinister effort by an insurance industry with a vested interest in the status quo, could sway public opinion before the program ever gets off the ground.
Insurance companies could leverage their influence to push for increasingly stringent regulations that would make compliance by Walmart difficult, if not impossible – underscoring the company’s need for a sound strategy and a team of seasoned veterans to implement it.
The task before the big-box giant is formidable but achievable.
And the need for the solution it has proposed is real.
Whether or not McMillon has the ability to execute his vision nationwide successfully remains to be seen – and we applaud Wal-Mart’s market-driven attempt to make healthcare more accessible and affordable.
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