Walmart raised eyebrows last week after announcing that it plans to work to become the number-one healthcare provider in the U.S.
According to a Forbes article detailing Walmart’s goals, Walmart plans to form a partnership with DirectHealth.com. This partnership will place the website’s licensed agents in clinics across half of Walmart’s 4,300 U.S. locations. These agents will assist consumers in shopping for health insurance.
The program began Oct. 10 and will run for two months. At appropriate Walmart locations, consumers will be able to enroll for Medicare once its open enrollment period begins. The program will also be open when the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment period begins in November.
While the plan to become the biggest healthcare provider may seem odd coming from Walmart, the company has made moves into the healthcare sphere for consumers. In recent years they have tested out a number of different healthcare advancements in their stores, such as retail clinics.
This development follows a previous attempt at healthcare development by Walmart in August, when they opened six primary healthcare clinics in South Carolina and Texas. They plan to open six more before January of next year.
These experimental clinics, unlike its retail clinics, were hosted through leases Walmart paid for with local hospitals in the area. They are open for 12 hours per day on weekdays and 8 hours per day on weekends, outstripping healthcare competitors.
Walmart likely plans to take advantage of the registration periods for government healthcare programs as many consumers look to obtain health insurance and search for more convenient methods of healthcare.
Walmart has noted that its newer clinics will charge $40 for walk-in visits, generally far cheaper than most health clinics. However, the most significant development seems to be for Walmart employees, where employees will be able to visit the clinic for “Four dollars. Four dollars!” according to Jennifer LaPerre, a Walmart company official.
Regardless of this development, Walmart is still providing these options to a limited market, and in the new clinics’ case, an incredibly limited market unavailable to individuals outside of South Carolina and Texas.
“Walmart’s corporate strategy has never been about first-mover advantage — it’s about distribution efficiency and cost management,” said Alicia Daugherty, who oversees the Advisory Board Company’s marketing and planning research departments.
While these actions might be seen as a bigger move, some students disagree.
“It’s just a pass-through for another company. What’s so groundbreaking about this? Large companies do this kind of thing all of the time,” said Hunter Holder, a sophomore computer science major. “And I’m hoping they won’t bring over Walmart’s standards for customer service into this partnership.”
Others view the move through a cautiously optimistic lens.
“The price is unbeatable, but I’m skeptical that the clinics will provide acceptable service for just four dollars,” said Richard Andrews, a sophomore English major. “The success of this move rides on the quality of the few clinics they already have open, so I think we’ll just have to wait and see. I’m curious to see how other clinics will respond to this.”
Walmart’s plan is likely the first larger move that the company will use in establishing itself as a more expansive healthcare provider, but it seems like its goal will likely have to wait for a number of years, given its experimental clinics’ statuses.