Walmart, the nation's biggest employer, is trying to redesign how U.S. healthcare works. It's one of the few companies that has the power to succeed, CNBC reports.


The retailer has been having early-stage talks with Humana about strengthening their partnership, which could also entail an acquisition of the insurer, sources familiar with the situation told CNBC. It also approached online pharmacy start-up PillPack to scoop it up for under $1 billion.

These discussions are still early but point to an ambitious vision in healthcare to offer services and potentially even take on risk for a large patient population, including lower-income Americans and seniors.

Walmart's moves come just weeks after three mega-companies—Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan—announced joint plans to improve the healthcare experience for their 1.3 million employees.

‘Everyone in the country is talking about Amazon and its partners changing the landscape of self-insured, large employers,’ said Trevor Price, CEO of the health services firm Oxeon Partners, who closely follows Walmart.

‘But the company that has the biggest opportunity to change [the] landscape of healthcare, given all the Americans [who] walk through the door every week, is Walmart.’

Walmart employs 2.3 million people. And it touches millions of Americans through its online marketplace and retail stores, where it sells everything from food to prescription medicines.

Walmart employees and customers come from all demographic groups, including the lower-income population that accounts for the vast majority of the nation's health costs. This gives Walmart the potential to make a real difference.

How Else Can Walmart Help?

Some other ways health experts explain how Walmart can affect or improve the U.S. healthcare system:

  • In theory, the wide-ranging network is already there. ‘Walmart has access to the food consumption, medical data and shopping cart of Americans from all social classes, and not just the one percent,’ said Julie Papanek, a health-focused investor at Canaan Partners.
  • Walmart has been ramping up its health offerings. “To cater to its employees, Walmart has been ramping up its health offerings, from pharmacy to care delivery, all with a focus on affordability,” CNBC reports.
  • Everyday low prices. “The company offers a list of prescription drugs that it sells for $4, no insurance required. That service alone, the company claims, has saved its customers more than $3 billion since it was launched more than a decade ago,” CNBC reports.
  • Wider access to medical care. CNBC reports that “Walmart has attempted to offering access to medical care—with mixed success. Last summer, it started offering lab testing services in some Florida and Texas locations. And it rolled out primary-care clinics that operate inside Walmart stores. For its employees with complex needs like high-risk surgeries, the company has been adding facilities like [the] Mayo Clinic to its network in a ‘Centers of Excellence’ program.”

Can Walmart make a real difference in healthcare? Should we be focusing on the potential of players like Walmart more? Do you agree or disagree with the point of view that Walmart is set up to succeed? Are there any discrepancies or opposing opinions on the commerce giant’s potential to enter this space?

In the bigger picture, the thought ties back to the idea that nontraditional forces can (and will) tackle issues like healthcare head-on in the hopes that they can make changes for the better. Are we all better off if they do?

Read more at CNBC.

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