Can Retail Cure America’s Healthcare System?
Over the last several months we’ve seen one-off examples of large national retailers getting into the healthcare game. Whether it’s CVS buying the healthcare insurer Aetna, Alberstson’s buying the Rite Aid pharma chain, or Amazon/Berkshire/Chase’s ambitious plan to privatize healthcare for their employees, Big Retail is clearly focused on keeping us healthy.
So why is this happening? First, think of the cost inefficiencies built into our current healthcare system. Insurers have a disincentive to let patients see HC providers early in the ailment cycle, so treatment is pushed off which can result in much higher medical costs down the road. Then there’s the sticker shock associated with your typical visit to the doctor. Unless you have a “gold plated” insurance plan with lower co-pays you’ll get hammered with fees for even basic annual checkups. As a result more consumers are dropping their general practitioners altogether, and are only going to emergency rooms (which are the most expensive option), as a last resort if they get really sick or injured.
This HC dystopia has created the perfect opportunity gap for retailers. With thousands of B&M locations retailers can offer cost-effective convenience, since they can make room in their stores for small doctors office setups without having to pay for a free-standing facility. Then there’s the loss-leader factor. Since retailers can make money by selling other things besides HC services they don’t necessarily need to run up the score on patients’ bills. Think of the potential for bundling price incentives like checkup/prescription combos, or a discount on other things you buy when coming in for a doctor appointment.
All of these reasons and more are why retail is nudging into healthcare. And all indications are that this trend will continue, with new tie-ups in the works like Walmart’s potential acquisition of Humana. Dr. Walton . . . you’re needed for a cleanup in OR 3.