Primary care and management of chronic diseases could soon be coming to your local Walmart store

Just weeks after announcing part-time employees would no longer receive health insurance benefits, Walmart said Monday it is planning to offer extended medical services in its stores, report NPR’s Julie Appleby and Sarah Varney. Since many of its stores are in rural areas, this move could extend medical coverage to people who often can’t afford transportation to a doctor. The retailer “sent out a request for partners to help it ‘dramatically lower the cost of health care by becoming the largest provider of primary health care services in the nation.'”

In a 14-page request, Walmart asks health-care providers to define their expertise in a variety of medical areas, including managing patients with chronic health problems like asthma, HIV, arthritis, depression and sleep apnea. The retailer is also trying to find health partners who can monitor patients with diabetes and high blood pressure. Appleby and Varney say “The move would capitalize on growing demand for primary care in 2014, when the federal health law fully kicks in and millions more Americans are expected to have government or private health insurance.” This effort could also capitalize on “collaborations between doctors and hospitals to streamline care and lower costs,” they report.

Though expansion of medical services in Walmarts “could help lower costs for some patients and increase access to primary care services,” it has its fair share of nay-sayers. Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, tells Abbleby and Varney that Walmart’s “proposal takes health care in the wrong direction by further fragmenting care. Ann O’Malley, physician and senior researcher at the Washington think tank Center for Studying Health System Change, said she’s not sure Walmart’s approach will work. She said she “would be surprised if this were a model that could truly attack cost problems.” Colin McGranahan, retail analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., said this could simply be a move to boost foot traffic and sales in Walmarts: “If you get someone in the door, you can also sell them milk and a shotgun.” (Read more)

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