By Dan Diamond Contributor, Forbes
OCTOBER 18, 2014 – Walmart doesn’t settle for second place: The nation’s #1 retailer just said it wants to be the #1 health care provider in the retail industry, too.
The company’s statement came on Monday, alongside an announcement about Walmart’s new health insurance initiative.
Under Walmart’s new partnership with DirectHealth.com, about half of 4,300 Walmart’s stores will feature DirectHealth.com licensed agents, who will help consumers shop for health insurance and navigate Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges.
The program, known as Healthcare Begins Here, begins on Friday Oct. 10 and will run for two months. Not coincidentally, the Medicare open enrollment period begins next week, and the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges begins in November.
“This approach is similar to what we saw with Walmart’s retail clinic strategy, where they leased space in their stores to local health systems rather than operating their own clinics,” my colleague Alicia Daugherty told me. (Daugherty leads the Advisory Board Company’s marketing and planning research.)
“That strategy allowed Walmart to test market receptivity to retail care and observe patient traffic patterns and clinic operations,” Daugherty points out, before launching their own primary care clinics this summer.
And partnering with DirectHealth.com for two months offers another benefit, Daugherty noted. “It also helps Walmart study how consumers shop for health plans – useful if they [end up] rolling out their own health plan,” she concluded.
By offering to help consumers shop for health insurance, Walmart’s picked a segment of the health care industry that’s ripe for disruption.
According to Labeed Diab, senior vice president and president of Health & Wellness for Walmart, almost two-thirds of people have problems understanding how to pick the right insurance plan, and nearly 4 out of 10 people have buyer’s remorse — after purchasing a plan, they believe they chose poorly.
While Walmart’s latest move may be eye-catching, it isn’t shocking.
Walmart’s spent several years positioning to move into the health care space — launching a generic drug program, testing out retail clinics, even speaking at health care conferences — although the company has walked back a number of stories about its ambitious plans.
For instance, a company official in 2013 said that Walmart was planning to launch “full primary care services in five to seven years.” Walmart quickly denied that report.
But on Monday, they weren’t hiding their ambitions.
“Our goal is to be the number one health-care provider in the industry,” Diab told the Washington Post‘s Sarah Halzack. “And the more we broaden our assortment, the more we broaden our offering, the more we educate the customer Walmart is a great place to create a one-stop shop.”
Although for many Americans, Walmart’s already a one-stop shop. Consider this:
There are 130 million visits to U.S. hospital emergency departments — per year.
Walmart stores get 150 million visitors — per week.