You can’t buy a lot for $4—maybe a cup of coffee or muffin. But at about a dozen Walmart stores across the South, $4 will get employees a visit to a nurse practitioner at an in-store clinic. It’s part of a new primary care program that Walmart is testing in three states.
Eric Klein leads the healthcare team at the national law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton. He says Walmart could actually come out ahead in the big picture.
“You have to look at the entire cost,” he says. “It’s not just the $4 copay, it’s the entire cost.”
Klein says if employees go to an on-site clinic owned by Walmart, the company could save money on doctor visits and insurance premiums. Cutting out the middle men could bring down the cost of Walmart’s insurance plans.
Dr. Harris Berman, the dean of the medical school at Tufts University, agrees.
“If the employees are getting it done here for $4, it won’t show up in their insurance bill,” he says.
With more than a million employees and their dependents on the Walmart health plan, the program could help shape the primary care market if it goes nationwide.
Jennifer LaPerre, Walmart’s senior director of health and wellness, says the company has a “unique opportunity” to help provide lower-cost care. LaPerre says the $4 figure is also part of Walmart’s branding strategy, in keeping with the $4 generic drug program that it launched in 2006.
Klein says Walmart also wins by having clinics just steps away from the checkout lines.
“By taking better care of their employees they actually get better results economically,” Klein says. “Less absenteeism, and that’s a real cost savings over time.”
Walmart is piloting the idea for now; planning to open about a dozen clinics by the end of the year in Georgia, Texas, and South Carolina. LaPerre says Walmart is choosing stores in areas with high rates of chronic disease and a shortage of primary care doctors.
If the concept works, Walmart may take it nationwide.