Remember Mr. Bill? He is long gone from the “Saturday Night Live” stage, but lives on within the confines of YouTube. He was the little clay figure who would begin simple, safe-sounding adventures that would go horribly wrong, leading to multiple injuries and eliciting many high-pitched cries of “Oh, Noooo!”
If you are not familiar with Mr. Bill, you are probably thinking, “What could be funny about this?” I have no analytical sound answer — but it was usually hilarious.
I think of Mr. Bill’s signature scream when I hear the reaction to a big powerful business entity making a new move in a particular marketplace. Oh, lets say like Walmart announcing last month that it’s opening two primary care clinics in South Carolina, with plans for three more in Texas, and six more by year’s end.
Well, what’s the big deal, you say? Walmart already has in-store clinics. Yes, about 100 of them, but those locations are leased arrangements with hospitals. Two things are different this time. Walmart will run the show and they are being directly marketed as primary care clinics, which makes them a new player.
The clinics will be staffed by nurse practitioners, in a deal with QuadMed, a company that runs on-site company clinics for employees. The hours are longer than competitors’: 12 hours per weekday and eight hours on weekends. They accept appointments as well as walk-ins, and claim that customers will not be hurried through the appointment. Customers “will have plenty of time” to ask questions or share concerns, according to reports. Point-of-care lab tests with same-day results are available, ranging from $8 to $14.
It costs $40 per visit. Employees and their dependents covered by Walmart’s health plan are charged $4 per visit. The low prices are aimed at “setting a new retail price in the health care industry” said a Walmart official at a press conference.
What do you think? Could you match that checklist? And there’s free parking and convenient locations.
How the primary care aspect plays out is another matter. Last year, Walgreens announced that it would offer some primary care services like disease monitoring. But according to a Walgreens spokesman quoted in the New York Times, Walgreens does not market its clinics as primary care facilities, adding that the company “strongly” encourages patients to seek continuing care elsewhere.
Physicians question whether managing complex chronic conditions is appropriate or even doable in such a setting, citing diseases like diabetes where there can be multiple complications.
All that being said, Walmart is off to the races. Analysts point out that the clinics are in rural areas with high levels of poverty where affordability can be a huge barrier to access. Also, Walmart is making this move at a time when millions of newly insured people are seeking medical care and exploring their options. And they understand retail shopping, even for health care.
Price may be an issue for middle-class people with a high-deductible health plan, which we are all so familiar with. Price also will be important to younger people who want convenience and could care less about doctor-patient relationships.
So, who will be the next big nontraditional player to stake a claim in health care? Amazon? I’m kidding. Sort of. Oh Noooooo!
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