Walmart innovates

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BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Four recent moves show how serious Walmart is about transforming the way health care is delivered in America. The most recent was the announcement earlier this month that the company will pilot a program designed to help its more than 1 million employees with health insurance find quality care more easily.

Just three weeks before that, the retailer opened its first Walmart Health center, a 10,000-square-foot facility that is located in a remodeled Supercenter in Dallas, Ga., and provides a wide range of health services, including primary care, lab work, counseling, dental, optical and hearing services.

Walmart also said it was adding a health care track to its Live Better U education benefit program, which allows its retail workers to earn degrees at a cost of just $1 per day. And its Sam’s Club division is testing a program that would allow club members to buy bundles of medical services at a discount.

The opening of the Walmart Health center was perhaps the most dramatic move. “This truly could actually change the landscape,” Walmart U.S. president and chief executive officer Greg Foran said at the grand opening of the pilot department, which offers Walmart’s vision on how health care can be made more accessible and affordable.

Sean Slovenski, senior vice president and president of health and wellness at Walmart, said that the new facility is unique in the range of services it brings together into one location, and by offering “transparent, low pricing, allowing a child to get an annual checkup for $20, lab tests starting at $10 and teeth cleaning for adults for $25, regardless of insurance status.”

Walmart Health also aims to simplify the health care experiece for customers by using technology to help streamline the process of scheduling appointments, checking in, paying for services and finding out how much those services will cost.

“More than anything, there’s this sense that the system is inherently complex when it should just be simple, so that’s really what we’re trying to solve for here,” said Marcus Osborne, Walmart’s vice president for health and wellness transformation.

A second Walmart Health location is set to open next year in Calhoune, Ga., and there’s the potential for an eventual rollout of some version of the concept.

“This is the first one,” Foran said at the opening of the Dallas, Ga., location. “We’re going to have to learn as we go through it. It’s a bit like when we opened the first Supercenter back in ’87.”

Walmart is working with health care industry partners on the Walmart Health initiative, and partnerships are also key to the packages of discounted health care services being offered, beginning this month, to Sam’s Club members in Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The bundles include such services as discounted dental care, telehealth consultations and free prescriptions for some generic drugs.

Prices for the packages range from $50 for individuals to $240 for families of up to six.

Walmart’s other two recent health care announcements involve employee benefits, but also have strategic implications for the retailer’s health and wellness businesses.

That certainly applies to the expansion of the retailer’s Live Better U educational benefit to include health and wellness courses. Launched in 2018 and initially focused helping associates earn college degrees in business and supply chain management, Live Better U will now offer diploma programs for pharmacy technicians and opticians, as well as bachelor’s degrees in health science, health and wellness, and health care management and ­administration.

“As our health and wellness strategy and offerings continue to evolve, Live Better U will play a critical role in preparing our associates across the country for future work opportunities in the growing health care field,” Walmart chief medical officer Dr. Thomas Van Gilder said.

Meanwhile, Walmart aims to lower the health care costs for its employees with health insurance coverage through pilot programs involving telehealth, personal health care assistant services and a program that picks doctors based on their performance.



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