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WalMart is raising the stakes in its bid to put even more health care in stock.

We’ve discussed the “doc in the box” health care provider model before. The premise is that, by severely limiting overhead and claims processing expenses, providers can offer routine services inexpensively, at a level affordable even for those without insurance. In fact, an argument could be made that they are specifically geared toward that market (which isn’t necessarily a bad idea).

ID readers may recall that it wasn’t that long ago that Sam Walton’s little enterprise pioneered the $4 generic prescription, which other retailers have begun emulating. According to the folks at WM, its customers have saved almost $300 million by using that plan (and who knows how much more consumers have saved from other retailers’ versions).

Uninsured folks accounted for about $100 million of that savings, by the way.

Kicking it up a notch, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott recently announced a major expansion of Wal-Mart’s in-store health clinics program. Over the next few years, Wal-Mart intends to open some 400 additional in-store health clinics. This is in addition to the 76 in-store clinics currently in operation. The retailing giant expects to have upwards of 2,000 of these units up and running in the next 5 years.

That’s a lot of docs in boxes.

According to WM spokescritters, the point of these clinics is threefold:

First, they’re profit centers (but of course). Second, they’re a “draw;” that is, folks will come in for a blood pressure check, or sore throat, and leave with 12 rolls of toilet paper or 10 gallons of olive oil. Finally, they hope to help to “boost the health of its shoppers.” Not a bad idea: a healthy shopper is a repeat shopper.

By partnering with local providers (including hospitals and physicians, for example), WM expects to engage a broader spectrum of folks in the ongoing health care debate. Although I’ve not seen anything explicitly stating this, it stands to reason that MCO’s (Managed Care Organizations, aka provider networks) will be keeping a close eye on this. After all, health insurance costs increase because health care costs increase. If the cost of care can be reined in, even just a bit, then insurance costs may follow.

And, of course, there’s my pet cause: transparency. What, pray tell, could be more transparent than a $4 prescription resulting from a $35 exam, with both costs plainly displayed at the store-front?

Be well.

Henry Stern, LUTCF, CBC is an independent insurance agent in Dayton, OH. A licensed Continuing Education instructor for Ohio and Kentucky, he has well over 20 years of experience in “the biz.” He blogs every day (or so it seems) at InsureBlog.

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from InsureBlog on Sun, 04/29/2007 - 12:55pm

In this week's 'Dispatch, we learn that WalMart is raising the stakes in its bid to put even more health care in stock.

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