Wal-Mart ‘satisfied’ so far with test of Care Clinics in supercenters

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 316 views 

A test by Wal-Mart Stores to offer access to affordable health care that involves 17 Care Clinics inside Walmart U.S. supercenters is going well, according to the company, with 22% of clinic visitors being Walmart employees and dependents.

The burgeoning cost of health care affects millions of American consumers each month. Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores set out to test its muscle in this area about a year ago launching Care Clinics in underserved markets identified by the retailer in Texas, South Carolina and Georgia.

Jennifer LaPerre, senior director with health & wellness for Walmart U.S., told The City Wire that the 17 Care Clinics are being well received in the areas where they are located. The clinics, owned by Wal-Mart and operated through a partnership with QuadMed, are still in a test phase. LaPeere said 22% of the patients have been Wal-Mart workers and their dependents, with the remainder being customers.

The Wal-Mart Care Clinic model provides a wide range of primary care services as well as acute and chronic care capabilities for a $4 office charge among its workers and dependents who carry the retailer’s health insurance. For everyone else the cost is $40. This is a fraction of the typical $160 to $240 routine office visit cost outlined by Blue Cross Blue Shield in early 2014. 

LaParre said one of Wal-Mart’s key strategies with the test was to disrupt prices in markets where they had a high density of workers in conjunction with areas of provider shortages and under- and uninsured populations tapped into medicaid. 

“This model has a dual purpose, to serve our associates and dependents but also our customers both of which are satisfied with our Care Clinics,” LaParre said in a phone interview with The City Wire.

She said another aspect Wal-Mart hopes to accomplish with this service is a more expanded care of options than some of their retail competitors – like Walgreens or CVS Care Mark – to include acute care operations.

“Our broadened scope of primary care includes annual checkups, vaccinations, immunizations and physicals but also encompasses acute care for sore throats, coughs allergies and sinus issues and provides a level of care for chronic health issues like diabetes, hyper-tension or high blood pressure,” she said.

LaParre said 30% of the population has chronic conditions and yet 47% of the patients that Care Clinics see do not have a primary care provider. She said 70% of health care spending today is for chronic conditions.

“We know we are providing a service that is truly needed,” she said.

LaParre did not rule out that Wal-Mart could bring its Care Clinic test home to Northwest Arkansas and the Natural State. She said Wal-Mart has plenty of workers in the region and state who could benefit from this service. That said, LaParre said the retailer also has a strong relationship with the health care providers in the region that it wishes to maintain. She also said Wal-Mart will continue to look for low-cost service strategies for its employees, their dependents and its customers in Arkansas.

The first Wal-Mart Care Clinic opened 54 weeks ago, so LaParre said the tests are still quite young.

A 2010 study by HSC indicated it could take up to five years for in-house clinics to make a positive return on investment. LaParre said the experiment is not about a quick return on investment but a benefit that helps employees and customers, and helping the retailer become a health and wellness destination.

Sarah McKinney, corporate spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said the clinics are positive for driving trips to the stores and saving people money which can be spent on other essentials.

More importantly, Wal-Mart has 500 million reasons to aggressively test these company-owned heath care clinics in its retail stores. With 1.1 million Americans working at Wal-Mart, the retailer said in August 2014 its health care costs were expected to cost $500 million for the year. That was $110 million more than planned as more of its workers signed up for company-sponsored plan following the enactment of the Affordable Health Care law. 

Last year the national average total health care cost per employee topped $12,000, rising 5% from the year before, according the National Business Group on Health. Employers typically cover 75% or more of that total cost as a benefit to their workers. That number was based on surveys from several hundred employers across the country.