Medical Services On Aisle Five

by Dish Staff

McArdle sees the logic of Walmart getting into the healthcare business:

The company is piloting what it hopes will be a broad network of primary-care clinics. The company already has urgent-care clinics in about 100 stores, but the new facilities will provide much broader services such as chronic-disease management that are normally provided at a doctor’s office. And it is doing so at an admirably low cost: A doctor’s visit at one of its primary-care clinics costs just $40, in cash — the only insurance they take is their corporate health plan and Medicare.

This model makes a lot of sense to me.

Doctor’s offices are, as the Affordable Care Act’s designers frequently stressed, remarkably inefficient compared to most of the rest of the economy. There are a lot of efficiencies that can be brought to the market by a big company employing staff physicians and centrally coordinating things such as purchasing and information technology. And what is Wal-Mart very good at? Central coordination of purchasing and IT.

Jonathan Cohn tentatively supports Walmart’s efforts:

Walmart’s famously ruthless approach to cost-cutting has its downsides. It’s easy to imagine the company treating its medical employees badly or, maybe even worse, creating a system of medical care that isn’t very good for patients. But the company also has a chance to be innovative, in ways that could benefit the public. It can make medical care easier to get, simply by providing routine care at more convenient times (like a Sunday afternoon, when your doctor’s office probably isn’t open). Walmart can also use its buying power to bargain for better prices from drug makers and suppliers. As Dan Diamond of the Advisory Board notes, the two South Carolina clinics are in two of the poorest parts of the statewhere the need for cheap health care is greatest, particularly since South Carolina hasn’t expanded its Medicaid program.