Sunday, December 9, 2018

Walmart Expanding Their Healthcare Involvement

An interesting article came in my email this week.  Retail giant Walmart has long been know for having some additional kiosks (at least as they appear around here) in the fronts of their stores.  These include hair salons, restaurants, banks, Starbucks franchises, and optometry offices.  Our local Walmarts have had pharmacies for as far back as I can recall, inside the main body of the store, but optometrists and those others tended to be along the front of the store, near where the checkout lanes are.

Now, one Walmart in Carrollton, Texas, is getting a mental health clinic as well.
The clinic opened Wednesday and is the first from Beacon Care Services, which will provide outpatient mental health care in various locations like retail stores. It hopes to provide convenience and accessibility to more people who need care, according to its site.
There is a growing demand for mental health care, but the number of mental health professionals is not growing enough to meet that demand. This leads to issues such as long wait times to see a professional and the inaccessibility of mental health professionals for those who live in rural areas.
Over the years, I've heard people who are close to having an actual addiction to shopping refer to it as "retail therapy".  This puts a whole new light on that saying. 

According to the Foundation for Economic Education, the arrangement is based on something closer to a market-based system, rather than the typical model for all other health care where no one knows what anything costs.
Since the clinic opened less than three weeks ago, over 500 prospective patients have come in to talk with representatives and learn more. Interested consumers can expect to pay $140 for the first appointment with additional visits costing $110. This cost is drastically lower than other therapy services available in the marketplace, where an uninsured person can sometimes pay upwards of $200 per visit. For consumers who are experiencing extenuating circumstances, Beacon also offers a sliding fee scale to help make these services accessible to everyone.
It's likely to be a start of a spreading trend and more involvement in health care for Walmart.
When it comes to improving general health care, Walmart is just getting started. The company announced that it is going to make cutting health care costs a priority. Putting this plan into action, the company recently hired former Humana executive Sean Slovensk to head up its health and wellness division.
The company recently partnered with Anthem, one of the largest insurance providers in the country, to offer discounts on medical equipment and over-the-counter drugs to Medicare patients. And all this is being done without government compulsion.
It's often noted that the leftists are often opposed to Walmart, but Walmart has done more to improve the lives of the "little guys" the leftists supposedly care about than any government anywhere in the world.  They are ruthlessly free market.  I've known engineers that have been involved in proposals to Walmart corporate headquarters and I've heard stories that I can't verify.  Let's just say Walmart apparently cuts their own costs as ruthlessly as they ask vendors to cut their costs.

One of the reasons Walmart wants to help cut health care costs is that health care for their employees is the second largest expense on their profit/loss ledger, right behind wages.  From their perspective as sellers of Pretty Much Everything, they see that if their customers didn't have to spend as much on health care they might have more to spend at Walmart.  That sort of corporate greed, backed by the resources of one of the largest retailers in the country, might be able to make a difference.  
“So these are the things that drive us to be interested in health care: Our customers need help. Our associates need and want to be healthy. And it’s good for our business,” [Walmart executive Lori Flees] said.
Frankly, I see other potential private sector moves to cut health care costs and improve access and it's nothing but good.  More from CNBC, back in October. 
Walmart’s competitors are also investing in health care. CVS Health wants to add more options at its retail clinics, known as MinuteClinics, once it closes its acquisition of health insurer Aetna. Walgreens is testing a number of partnerships, including one with UnitedHealth Group to add urgent care centers to some drugstores.

Walmart earlier this year was looking to deepen its partnership with Humana, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Flees said partnerships are “an essential part” of the strategy to lower the cost of health care and to improve the health of the country.

“If you take the expertise that lies in the industry and you combine it with Walmart’s footprint, it really is an opportunity to have a positive impact at scale,” she said.
The more government involvement there is, the worse things get.  We need more freedom, more market. These companies can't completely unscrew things themselves, state and local governments can always screw things up more, but it's a hopeful sign.

A typical in-store Walmart Pharmacy line.  Callaghan O’Hare | Bloomberg | Getty Images


  1. Walmart is doing this for $$$, plain and simple. They aren't putting the needed amount of money in for REAL healthcare. They are just cherry picking the portions of the healthcare spectrum that are low cost and easy to make money from. This includes pharmacy, optometry ( and there IS a difference between optometry and opthamology), "Urgent care" where they PA's and Nurse Practicioners to see people with the sniffles etc. and now they want to expand
    into the easy money low overhead arena of "mental health". When they start installing lab equipment to do blood tests and radiology equipment to allow REAL diagnostic abilities THEN and ONLY THEN can we say Walmart is actually trying to provide healthcare. Until then they are doing what Walmart has always done....
    milking a convenient cash cow.

  2. I went by a CVS MinuteClinic some years ago to ask if they could do stiches, but they couldn't, because the licensing/regulation class of nurse they put there didn't have the right permit. I was fully convinced the nurse I spoke with would have been able to do the procedures I envisioned.

    I hear Walmart has wanted to put sniffles/stiches/flu shot clinics in their stores for many years, but licensing/regulation has blocked it somehow. I heard it took ten years of lobbying by a couple full time employees to be allowed to relocate the Walmart locations in Gainesville, FL. The building which is now Lucky's Market stood empty for FORTY years. Not even an interim paintball or Halloween maze. I wonder who had to die to allow that building to be used?

    Recently I saw a research paper describing some newly discovered underlying mechanisms of the placebo effect. They found a genetic thing which controls strength of response to placebo. They think placebo shares wiring with the painkiller system. We always knew placebo effect was real, but if they get engineering control of it would become official medicine. My point being Walmart fussing over someone for sniffles may be doing "Real Medicine(TM)".

    1. Do not conflate Walmart seeking $$$ from low hanging fruit for actual research. Finding out the mechanism behind the very real effect that
      Placebos can have will NOT involve Walmart and will more probably involve a university level teaching hospital affiliated with a big name Medical School. I'm not dissing's good capitalism to find a need and fill it. And if they make the wrong choices in that effort then they lose long as the Government isn't dragged into things to use tax dollars for bailouts. But to think Walmart is actually doing this out of the altruistic sense of "service" is lunacy.

    2. Don't attempt to get stiches in your thumb in a university/medical town on Saturday at 7pm. I wanted to pay under $200 for 20 minutes of attention by one person and some commodity medical supplies, and I didn't want to wait in line for more than 10 minutes. What I really wanted was the opinion about what treatment it needed. Turned out to be minor enough that, having not gotten stitches, it healed reasonably anyway.

    3. The last time I needed stitches, I was woodworking around 8 or 9 PM on a holiday weekend (New Years Eve). This was around 15 years ago and I thought I needed to go the ER. None of the "urgent care" places I knew were open. It was literally a few minutes for the guy who knew what he was doing. I got a copy of the bill and the amount charged to my Insurance was over $1000. I think the actual payment was around $150.

      Providers and insurance companies go through this elaborate dance ritual of amount charged vs. what they agreed to pay vs. what it actually costs the providers. It would put any animals' mating dances to shame.

      Again, around 10-15 years ago. I should have taped it closed.

  3. Our whole healthcare mess got started when private companies got involved in the "healthcare" industry-- Kaiser-Permanente iirc, when they invented employer funded health "insurance" as a perk to avoid the wage controls that the US .gov put in place during the depression.

    In other words, TWO different things that interfered with the free market, and the system we have now is the result. YES it provides good care and it's generally widely available, but almost no one pays for their own care, knows what it costs, or is ever presented with choices.

    If wal*mart wants to lease space to medical practitioners, let them. If they want to BECOME providers, I see the same rush to the bottom that drove out quality in the goods they sell happening in healthcare, and that isn't a good thing.


  4. I don't see anything wrong with "Walmart is doing this for $$$," or "seeking $$$ from low hanging fruit". Free markets work wherever they're tried and we absolutely do NOT have a free market in health care. Of course they're "not putting the needed amount of money in for REAL healthcare. They are just cherry picking the portions of the healthcare spectrum that are low cost and easy to make money from." That's called prudent business practice. Why risk a ton of money if they don't know the chances of success? Maybe you've heard the term "test marketing"?

    Because they have no experience with it, people are afraid of the free market in health care. The system that has lowered the price and improved the quality on everything from appliances to those few areas where it applies in medical care (notably LASIK type surgery, and purely cosmetic surgeries) can't be trusted on health care alone?

    The problem Walmart, CVS, and the other companies getting into this are facing, as anonymous 0256 said, is the industry is so regulated they almost can't do anything. They certainly can't make big changes, just little ones around the edges.