(Bloomberg) — In 2007, Lee Scott, then Walmart Stores Inc.’s CEO, trumpeted plans to open as many as 2,000 in-house medical clinics by mid-2012. He called the strategy “a great opportunity for our business.”
Today Walmart has fewer than 130 clinics and is closing locations faster than it’s opening them. Meanwhile, CVS Caremark Corp., which already has about 630 MinuteClinics, is opening about three a week, and aims to have 1,500 within four years. It’s promoting the clinics heavily on TV and the web. While industry figures are hard to come by, CVS says its clinic business has grown at a compound annual rate of 39% in the last six years.
Walmart, which farmed out the operation of the clinics to third-party operators, hasn’t adequately promoted its clinics to shoppers or made it easy for them to pick up their prescriptions. Thomas Charland, who runs Merchant Medicine, a research and consulting firm specializing in walk-in health care, has heard “lots of complaints” from operators that they get little support from Wal-Mart, and he characterized the company’s efforts as “trial and failure.”
It’s not as though Scott’s “great opportunity” no longer exists. As key parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act start phasing in next year, some 30 million newly insured Americans will be looking for care amid a doctor shortage. Clinics, generally open after-hours and on weekends, minister to patients with minor illnesses and injuries as well as provide vaccinations, physicals and chronic disease monitoring. The clinics are usually staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants and typically charge $60 for an exam, which most insurers cover.
Walmart is “always looking for new ways to provide affordable health services and products to our customers,” including a program that offers prescription drugs for $4, says Danit Marquardt, a Walmart spokeswoman. She didn’t answer questions about the clinic strategy.
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