Walmart was the first to offer $4 generic drugs. Now, the nation’s largest retailer is making patient-care services like checkups and lab tests available to its employees and their families for the same low price as generics.
Walmart will open a dozen Care Clinics in stores this year for customers and store associates, including two that open this week in Georgia and a third new clinic in Carrollton, South Carolina. Walmart Care Clinics are a pilot program that began in April in Texas. Each primary-care clinic is corporately owned, and staffed by licensed nurse practitioners who work under the supervision of a licensed physician.
A customer or a Walmart crew member can be evaluated at the new walk-in clinics for cold and flu symptoms, chronic illnesses or preventive medicine. A visit costs $40 to a customer, and just $4 to a Walmart store employee with health insurance. Associates and customers can expect low prices on services beyond the office visit, such as vaccines and lab tests, which carry separate charges, according to Walmart spokesperson Danit Marquardt.
Basic health services offered at the pilot Care Clinics are:
- Diagnosis and treatment of flu, strep and other illnesses;
- Lab tests;
- Health screenings;
- Management of diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure; and
- Referrals to specialists, if needed.
Care Clinics mark a departure from the health care Walmart’s offered in the past. The retailer already has about 100 basic basic-care clinics in stores nationwide under a leasing arrangement with local health care provider organizations, according to Marquardt. The local health systems and providers own and operate the clinics, which began in 2005.
“All parts of the health care system play an important role in our communities,” Marquardt said. “We aim to be part of a continuum of care while driving down costs for our associates and customers.”
A different approach
Drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens have offered similar primary care in their stores for years, however, Walmart has a history of rocking the boat and making the U.S. health care system adapt. Walmart in 2006 announced a $4 generic pharmacy program, and competitors CVS and Walgreens followed by creating their own low-cost generic program. The $4 Walmart co-pay reportedly saved consumers $3 billion on medications.
Walmart’s new patient-care program comes at a time when the U.S. health care system is still undergoing a seismic shift, due to the expansion of Medicare and a federal mandate that individuals buy health insurance.
“Smart move,” says Joe Paduda with Health Strategy Associates, a Madison, Connecticut-based consulting firm that specializes in managed care for workers’ compensation and group health.
“Health care is a very brandable service, and delivering excellent, low-cost basic care is not expensive, and can lead to very positive customer experiences.”
Clinic care can be delivered effectively and affordably because many primary care visits are for routine problems, according to Padua. These can be diagnosed easily and treated by nurses and other clinicians.
By comparison, CVS was the first U.S. retailer to open health care centers in stores, according to spokesman Brent Burkhardt. Today, 860 “Minute Clinics” are open seven days per week inside selected stores in 29 states and the District of Columbia. The drugstore chain plans to open another 150 of its trademarked care centers this year and is pushing into Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, according to the spokesman.
CVS Minute Clinics are staffed licensed nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and accept most health insurance plans. Walk-in customers receive treatment for the ailments that a family practice physician knows all too well:
- Strains and sprains;
- Rash and skin conditions;
- Vaccinations; and
- Prevention and wellness.
“Minute Clinic does not look to become a patient’s primary care provider; instead they want to be part of the primary care/medical home team working in conjunction with the local primary care physicians,” Burkhardt says.
Half of the patient visits to CVC clinics are during evenings, weekends and holidays. The clinic makes referrals to local primary physicians and agencies, too.