All along we've argued the the "problem" with American health care is its high price. We've seen Wal-Mart have significant impact on the retail market, offering goods at prices significantly lower than their competitors and bringing these goods into the budgets of their customers. How would the Wal-Mart model work for health care?
We're going to have the opportunity to find out. Wal-Mart, like other retailers, has been introducing in-store clinics. I'm unsure about how many are now in operation, but 400 were announced in 2007. Some sources say there will be over 2000 in the next four years.
These clinics treat common medical problems for $40-65 a visit depending on clinic location and the health malady. In addition to the cheap office visit, Wal-Mart pharmacies have begun a $4 prescription plan. An impressive survey of medications are available for $4 for a 30-day supply or $10 for a 90-day supply.
Wal-Mart and its clinics certainly have critics, but it seems to us at FMP that these in-store clinics truly address the greatest need of American health care- the need for affordable care. The Wal-Mart mission of "saving people money so they can live better" certainly applies to health care.
Here are some extractions from speeches by former Wal-Mart President Lee Scott at the World Health Care Congress in 2007 and at the National Retail Federation last month on Wal-Mart's clinics and on the role of the market in health care.
"The private sector can make a difference," he said. "I believe American businesses can lead and we should."
"We think the clinics will be a great opportunity for our business. But most importantly, they are going to provide something our customers and communities desperately need -- affordable access at the local level to quality health care," Scott said. "We believe we can deliver effective and efficient health care at the local level."
"Within days of announcing our $4 program, countless other discounters, drug stores and supermarkets dropped their prices on generic prescriptions," Scott said. "That has surely saved our health-care system millions of more dollars. So let there be no doubt that the private sector can lead."
"As businesses, we have a responsibility to society. We also have an extraordinary opportunity. Let me be clear about this point … there is no conflict between delivering value to shareholders and helping solve bigger societal problems. In fact … they can build on each other when developed, aligned and executed right.
At Wal-Mart, we do not really see it as philanthropy or CSR or the Triple Bottom Line. All of those approaches have merit and can have an impact. But what we are talking about is different.
We believe you can bring together the bottom line on a balance sheet … with social and environmental bottom lines. Societal responsibilities and how we fulfill them can align and strengthen the business. When you do that, things really start to take hold, build momentum and make a much bigger difference. We have seen this at Wal-Mart when we have put together the “Save Money” and “Live Better” parts of our mission … and applied them to big challenges like the cost of prescription drugs. And I believe this can apply to all of us.
The principles are very simple. Does how you want to contribute to larger societal issues work with your business model – so it will last during the both good and bad economic times? Does it fit with your mission and culture – so that all parts of your company are engaged, energized and contributing? Does it offer the opportunity to leverage your unique strengths – so you can scale your efforts and make a unique, powerful and meaningful difference? And we can make a special contribution as retailers."