Wal-Mart Wants To Be The Nation’s No. 1 Health Care Provider
Every week, 150 million people – or roughly 47 percent of the U.S. population – visit a Wal-Mart store. Nearly all of them are there to buy groceries or clothing or some household necessity. But Wal-Mart sees those 150 million weekly visitors as customers for other things as well – things such as health care and insurance.
Wal-Mart is not satisfied with being the nation’s largest seller of bananas or the public’s go to place for everything from cat food to coffee makers. The retailer announced earlier this week that it wants to be the No. 1 health care provider in the retail industry.
Whether other mass retailers plan to follow Wal-Mart’s lead into this business has many in the industry watching the move closely.
Wal-Mart is partnering with DirectHealth.com to help customers enroll in health coverage during a two-month season beginning Oct. 10. Under the arrangement, about half of Wal-Mart’s stores will be staffed by DirectHealth.com licensed agents, who will help customers choose Medicare coverage or health insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act exchange.
But although Wal-Mart wants its customers to “Save Money, Live Better” with health coverage, apparently that wish does not extend to some of its employees. A day after Wal-Mart announced its foray into the health insurance business, the company announced that it is eliminating health insurance for most of its part-time U.S. employees. Wal-Mart told The Associated Press that starting Jan. 1, it would no longer offer health insurance to employees who work less than an average of 30 hours a week. The move would affect 30,000 employees out of Wal-Mart’s total U.S. workforce of 1.4 million. Back in 2011, Wal-Mart said it would no longer offer coverage to its workers who work less than 24 hours a week.
Wal-Mart has spent the past several months venturing into territory that is outside the traditional retail arena. For example, the company announced it would begin offering its customers checking accounts through a partnership with Green Dot.
Only two months ago, Wal-Mart began operating Care Clinics in South Carolina and Texas. The in-store clinics charge $40 for appointments and additional fees for lab work. Wal-Mart employees and their dependents on the company health plan can visit the clinic for $4.
These primary care clinics are similar to clinics operated by a number of national retailers such as CVS and Walgreen. But Wal-Mart is not known as a place where people go for health related services, so its entry into the marketplace is seen as a possible game-changer for the industry. The retailer’s sheer number of stores and its buying power could mean that other health care providers will be forced to compete at a different level.
And it wasn’t that long ago – April to be exact – that Wal-Mart announced it would begin offering auto insurance online through a link to AutoInsurance.com.
So what’s next? Life insurance from Wal-Mart? Amazon or Google getting into the marketplace?