Inside This Issue - Opinion
Once again, Walmart impacts health care
December 6th, 2010
New evidence of Walmart’s ability to influence the development of the health care market emerged last month when UnitedHealthcare and its Prescription Solutions division teamed up with Kroger Co. and Safeway Inc., two of the nation’s premier food/drug combination store operators, to launch Pharmacy Saver.
Designed for Medicare Part D beneficiaries, the program promises to cut out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for members who obtain their medications at participating pharmacies.
In some important respects the initiative mirrors the Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx Plan that was unveiled at the end of September. With co-payments of as little as $2 for some scripts, both programs are clearly focused on making pharmaceuticals more affordable.
Speaking on the first day of the enrollment period for 2011 Medicare Part D plans, Dr. John Agwunobi, president of Walmart’s health and wellness division, was emphatic about the retailer’s objectives. “First and foremost, our goal is to serve the customer by lowering the cost of health care,” he said.
“If we are successful in doing that while keeping our shareholders happy, it is quite possible that we will have injected the notion that price does matter at the level of premiums, co-pays and deductibles. The government and others are going to start asking why you can’t lower prices, and I suspect that it’s possible others will follow suit.”
It didn’t take long for that scenario to begin to play out.
Cost is certainly a selling point for the Humana Walmart plan. According to figures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, it has the lowest monthly premium — $14.80 — of any national program, less than half the weighted average.
Agwunobi indicated that Walmart is committed to applying its philosophy to other sectors of health care wherever that can be done without adversely affecting quality.
“Our game is that we help lower prices,” he said. “We’re focused on the consumer, but employers, insurers and other payers are also looking to save money. As a result, you’ll see us working with them to reduce their costs. Our only request is that they pass some of the savings on to the end user, the customer, in the form of lower prices, lower premiums and lower co-pays.
“Make no bones about it — our intent is to reduce the cost of health care so that more people can have access to it. That has been our strategy, very publicly stated, from the beginning. You can tell I’m passionate on this subject.”
Coupled with Walmart’s formidable resources and clout, that passion will continue to exert a powerful influence on the evolution of health care delivery.