Dollar General: Rural America’s new health hub?

Dollar Stores and food deserts: The latest struggle between Main Street and  corporate America - CBS News

Dollar General hired its first CMO and plans to become a destination for affordable healthcare offerings.  

The retail giant will bring an increased assortment of medical, dental and health aids to its shelves as part of its first major jump into the healthcare industry, according to a July 7 news release.

Three things to know:

  1. In the United States, 75 percent of the population lives within five miles of one of the chain’s 17,400 stores. The chain recognizes that it’s postured to deliver care to rural communities that are traditionally underserved in the healthcare ecosystem, the release said.
  2. “At Dollar General, we are always looking for new ways to serve, and our customers have told us that they would like to see increased access to affordable healthcare products and services in their communities,” said Todd Vasos, Dollar General CEO. “Our goal is to build and enhance affordable healthcare offerings for our customers, especially in the rural communities we serve.”
  3. The chain selected Albert Wu, MD, as its first CMO and vice president. Dr. Wu will strengthen relationships with healthcare service providers to build a network for its customers. In his previous position, Dr. Wu worked at McKinsey, where he oversaw the care model for 250,000 rural patients and drove $2-5 billion in revenue.

Walmart, Amazon continue to build healthcare presence

Walmart Health: A Deep Dive into the $WMT Corporate Strategy in Health Care  | by Nisarg Patel | Medium

Late last week, retail giant Walmart announced its plan to acquire national telemedicine provider MeMD, for an undisclosed sum. According to Dr. Cheryl Pegus, Walmart’s executive vice president for health, the acquisition “complements our brick-and-mortar Walmart Health locations”, allowing the company to “expand access and reach consumers where they are”.

MeMD, founded in 2010, provides primary care and mental health services to five million patients nationally. The acquisition extends Walmart’s health delivery capabilities beyond the handful of in-store and store-adjacent clinics it runs, and follows the launch of its own Medicare Advantage-focused broker business, and partnership with Medicare Advantage start-up Clover Health to offer a co-branded insurance product. 

Walmart has been climbing the healthcare learning curve for several years, building on its sizeable retail pharmacy business, and seems to have hit on a successful formula in its latest in-person clinic model, which includes primary care, behavioral health, vision, and dental services. The retailer plans to add 22 new clinic locations by the end of this year, and its new telemedicine offering will allow it to expand its virtual reach even further.

The MeMD acquisition also represents a new front in Walmart’s head-to-head competition with Amazon, which launched its own national telemedicine service earlier this year. That service, Amazon Care, is targeted at the employer market, and right on cue, Amazon announced its first customer sale last week—to Precor, a fitness equipment company. 

Both retail giants are slowly circling the $3.6T healthcare industry, targeting inefficiencies by deploying their expertise in convenience and consumer engagement. Incumbents beware.

Could Dollar General help dramatically expand vaccine access?

https://mailchi.mp/94c7c9eca73b/the-weekly-gist-april-16-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

CDC in Talks With Dollar General to Expand Vaccinations

For some time, we’ve been focused on the efforts of Walmart to launch and grow a care delivery business, especially as it has piloted an expanded primary care clinic offering in a handful of states. We’ve long thought that access to basic care at the scale that Walmart brings could be transformative, given that more than half of Americans visit a Walmart store every week. Along those same lines, we’ve always wondered why Dollar General and Dollar Tree—each with around four times as many retail locations as Walmart—haven’t gotten into the retail clinic or pharmacy businesses.

(Part of the answer is ultra-lean staffingthis piece gives a good sense of the basic, and troubling, economics of dollar stores.) Now, as the federal government ramps up its efforts to widely distribute the COVID vaccines, it turns out that the CDC is actively discussing a partnership with Dollar General to administer the shots.

A fascinating new paper (still in preprint) from researchers at Yale shows why this could be a true gamechanger. The Biden administration, through its partnership with national and independent pharmacy providers, aims to have a vaccination site within five miles of 90 percent of the US population by next week. Compared to those pharmacy partners, researchers found, Dollar General stores are disproportionately located in areas of high “social vulnerability”, with lower income residents and high concentrations of disadvantaged groups. Particularly in the Southeast, a partnership with Dollar General would vastly increase access for low-income Black and Latino residents, allowing vaccine access within one mile for many, many more people. And the partnership could form the basis for future expansions of basic healthcare services to vulnerable and rural communities, particularly if some of the $7.5B in funding for COVID vaccine distribution went to helping dollar store locations bolster staffing and equipment to deliver basic health services. We’ll be watching with interest to see if the potential Dollar General partnership comes to fruition.

4 of the biggest healthcare trends CVS Health says to watch in 2021

COVID-19 accelerated a number of trends already brewing in the healthcare industry, and that’s not likely to change this year, according to a new report from CVS Health.

The healthcare giant released its annual Health Trends Report on Tuesday, and the analysis projects several industry trends that are likely to define 2021 in healthcare, ranging from technology to behavioral health to affordability.

“We are facing a challenging time, but also one of great hope and promise,” CVS CEO Karen Lynch said in the report. “As the pandemic eventually passes, its lessons will serve to make our health system more agile and more responsive to the needs of consumers.”

Here’s a look at four of CVS’ predictions:

1. A looming mental health crisis

Behavioral health needs were a significant challenge in healthcare prior to COVID-19, but the number of people reporting declining mental health jumped under the pandemic.

Cara McNulty, president of Aetna Behavioral Health, said in a video attached to the report that it will be critical to “continue the conversation around mental health and well-being” as we emerge from the pandemic and to reduce stigma so people who need help seek it out.

“We’re normalizing that it’s important to take care of our mental well-being,” she said.

Data released in December by GoodRx found that prescription fills for depression and anxiety medications hit an all-time high in 2020. GoodRx researchers polled 1,000 people with behavioral health conditions on how they were navigating the pandemic, and 63% said their depression and/or anxiety symptoms worsened.

McNulty said symptoms to look for when assessing whether someone is struggling with declining mental health include whether they’re withdrawn or agitated or if there’s a notable difference in their self-care routine.

2. Pharmacists take center stage

CVS dubbed 2021 “the year of the pharmacist” in its report.

The company expects pharmacists to be a key player in a number of areas, especially in vaccine distribution as that process inches toward broader access. They also offer a key touchpoint to counsel patients about their care and direct them to appropriate services, CVS said.

CVS executives said in the report that they see a significant opportunity for pharmacists to have a positive impact on the social determinants of health. 

“We’ve found people are not only open and willing to share social needs with their pharmacists but in many cases, they listen to and act on the advice and recommendations of pharmacists,” Peter Simmons, vice president of transformation, pharmacy delivery and innovation at CVS Health, said in the report.

3. Finding ways to mitigate the cost of high-price therapies

Revolutionary drugs and therapies are coming to market with eye-popping price tags; it’s not uncommon to see new pharmaceuticals priced at $1 million or more. For pharmacy benefit managers, this poses a major cost challenge.

To address those prices, CVS expects value-based contracting to take off in a big way. And drugmakers are comfortable with the idea, according to the report. Novartis, for example, is offering insurers a five-year payment plan for its $2 million gene therapy Zolgensma, with refunds available if the drug doesn’t achieve desired results.

CVS said the potential for these therapies is clear, but many payers want to see some type of results before they fork over hundreds of thousands.

“Though the drug may promise to cure these patients for life, these are early days in their use,” said Joanne Armstrong, M.D., enterprise head of women’s health and genomics at CVS Health, in the report. “What we’re saying is, show us the clinical value proposition first.”

CVS said it’s also offering a stop-loss program for gene therapy to self-funded employers contracted with Aetna and/or Caremark to assist them in capping the expenses associated with these drugs.

4. Getting into the community to address diabetes

Diabetes risk is higher among vulnerable populations, such as Black patients, and addressing it will require local and community-based solutions, CVS executives said in the report. Groups at the highest risk for the disease are less likely to live in areas with easy access to a supermarket, for example, which boosts their risk of unhealthy eating, according to the report.

The two key hurdles to addressing this issue are access and affordability. The rise in retail clinics and ambulatory care centers can get at the access issue, as they can offer a way to better meet patients where they are.

At CVS’ MinuteClinics, patients can walk in and receive a number of services to assist them in managing diabetes, including screenings, consultations with providers and connections to diabetes educators who can assist with lifestyle changes.

Retail locations can also assist with medication costs, creating a one-stop-shop experience that’s easier for many diabetes patients to slot into their daily lives, CVS said.

“Diabetes is a case study in how a more connected experience can translate to simpler, affordable and more accessible care for underserved communities,” said Dan Finke, executive vice president of CVS Health and president of its healthcare benefits division.

Walmart is slowing its ambitious push into healthcare, employees and leaked documents reveal

https://www.businessinsider.com/walmart-slowing-healthcare-clinics-strategy-2021-2

Walmart Health

In 2018, Walmart‘s board of directors approved a bold plan to scale to 4,000 clinics by 2029.

The timeline laid out a net investment of $3 billion, not counting profits from the clinics, and a rollout strategy, according to a February 2019 presentation to the board obtained by Insider.

The vision was backed by former Walmart US CEO Greg Foran, the health team’s biggest champion who left Walmart in 2019. And it was dreamed up by Sean Slovenski, who Foran asked to come up with a big idea in healthcare as Walmart’s biggest competitors were pushing deeper into the space.

Now those leaders have been replaced by a team with a different philosophy, and the strategy is in flux at the same time Walmart is dealing with the pandemic and focusing on e-commerce, Insider has learned through conversations with eight former and current employees. 

One coalition inside Walmart is happy with the change of pace —the retailer has 20 clinics currently, with at least 15 slotted for 2021 — because healthcare is hard, and the clinics are a work in progress.

Another coalition is frustrated by what they see as a stark departure from the initial goal to provide inexpensive care for people around the US quickly as possible.

Walmart didn’t comment on whether the rollout was slowing, but said it continued to “experiment” with Walmart Health centers and that the pandemic had reaffirmed its commitment to healthcare. It pointed to the launch of pharmacy curbside delivery, COVID-19 testing sites, and vaccine administration as evidence.

Walmart prepares 5,000+ pharmacies to administer the COVID vaccine

The CDC selected Walmart and Sam’s Club to help administer COVID-19 vaccines in communities across the United States.

Why it’s important: With 5,000+ pharmacy locations, the company can administer the vaccine in hard-to-reach parts of the country.

Walmart files plans for standalone clinic in Florida

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/capital/walmart-files-plans-for-standalone-clinic-in-florida.html?utm_medium=email

Walmart Health: A Deep Dive into the $WMT Corporate Strategy in Health Care  | by Nisarg Patel | Medium

Walmart plans to open a 6,500-square-foot standalone clinic in Middleburg, Fla., according to the Jacksonville Record & Observer, which cited plans filed with the local water management district. 

The new clinic is part of the expansion Walmart Health announced July 22. The new health center will offer primary care, urgent care, labs, imagining, counseling, optical and hearing services, according to the report. A timeline for when the clinic will open has not been released.

In addition to expanding into Florida, Walmart Health is also planning to open a few clinics in the Chicago market. The company already has freestanding health centers in Georgia and Arkansas. 

 

 

 

 

Fearing a ‘Twindemic,’ Health Experts Push Urgently for Flu Shots

Fearing a 'Twindemic,' Health Experts Push Urgently for Flu Shots ...

There’s no vaccine for Covid-19, but there’s one for influenza. With the season’s first doses now shipping, officials are struggling over how to get people to take it.

As public health officials look to fall and winter, the specter of a new surge of Covid-19 gives them chills. But there is a scenario they dread even more: a severe flu season, resulting in a “twindemic.”

Even a mild flu season could stagger hospitals already coping with Covid-19 cases. And though officials don’t know yet what degree of severity to anticipate this year, they are worried large numbers of people could forgo flu shots, increasing the risk of widespread outbreaks.

The concern about a twindemic is so great that officials around the world are pushing the flu shot even before it becomes available in clinics and doctors’ offices. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been talking it up, urging corporate leaders to figure out ways to inoculate employees. The C.D.C. usually purchases 500,000 doses for uninsured adults but this year ordered an additional 9.3 million doses.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been imploring people to get the flu shot, “so that you could at least blunt the effect of one of those two potential respiratory infections.”

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been waging his own pro flu-shot campaign. Last month, he labeled people who oppose flu vaccines “nuts” and announced the country’s largest ever rollout of the shots. In April, one of the few reasons Australia allowed citizens to break the country’s strict lockdown was to venture out for their flu shots.

The flu vaccine is rarely mandated in the U.S. except by some health care facilities and nursery schools, but this month the statewide University of California system announced that because of the pandemic, it is requiring all 230,000 employees and 280,000 students to get the flu vaccine by November 1.

A life-threatening respiratory illness that crowds emergency rooms and intensive care units, flu shares symptoms with Covid-19: fever, headache, cough, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue. Flu can leave patients vulnerable to a harsher attack of Covid-19, doctors believe, and that coming down with both viruses at once could be disastrous.

The 2019-20 flu season in the United States was mild, according to the C.D.C. But a mild flu season still takes a toll. In preliminary estimates, the C.D.C. says that cases ranged from 39 million to 56 million, resulting in up to 740,000 hospitalizations and from 24,000 to 62,000 flu-related deaths.

According to the C.D.C., flu season occurs in the fall and winter, peaking from December to February, and so was nearing its end as the pandemic began to flare in the United States in March.

But now, fighting flu proactively during the continuing pandemic presents significant challenges: not only how to administer the shot safely and readily, but also how to prompt people to get a shot that a majority of Americans have typically distrusted, dismissed and skipped.

With many places where the flu shot is administered en masse now inaccessible — including offices and plants that offered it free to employees on site and school health clinics — officials have been reaching out to local health departments, health care providers and corporations to arrange distribution. From now through Oct. 31, publicity campaigns will blast through social media, billboards, television and radio. Because the shot will be more difficult to access this year, people are being told to get it as soon as possible, although immunity does wane. There will be flu shot tents with heaters in parking lots and pop-up clinics in empty school buildings.

Because of the efforts, vaccine makers are projecting that a record 98 million flu shots will be given this year in the United States, about 15 percent more than doses ordered last year. The Kaiser Permanente health care system will be flooding more than 12 million of its members with flu shot reminders via postcard, email, text and phone calls.

Pharmacies and even supermarkets are expected to play a bigger role than they have in previous years. As of this week, Walgreens and CVS will have flu shots available. Walgreens will be hosting additional off-site flu vaccine clinics in community centers and churches. To reduce contact time, CVS is allowing patients to fill out paperwork digitally.

In New York City, which averages about 2,000 flu-related deaths a year, the health department has been reaching out to hundreds of independent pharmacies to administer the shots, because they are often located in outer-borough neighborhoods where the coronavirus has been rampaging. The health department has a detailed online flu vaccine locator.

“Access is a problem for all adult vaccines,” said L. J. Tan, chief strategy officer for the Immunization Action Coalition, a nonprofit group that works to increase vaccination rates, who was an early promoter of the term twindemic. “Adults may think, If I can get the flu shot easily, I might consider it.”

But as difficult as getting the flu shot to people safely will be, perhaps harder still will be persuading them to actually get it. In the 2018-19 flu season in the United States, only 45.3 percent of adults over 18 got the vaccine, with rates for those ages 18 to 50 considerably lower.

Skepticism to this vaccine runs high, particularly in communities of color because of longstanding distrust and discrimination in public health.2017 study in the journal Vaccine noted that, compared with white people, “African Americans were more likely to report barriers to vaccination, were more hesitant about vaccines in general and the flu vaccine specifically, more likely to believe in conspiracy theories and use naturalism as an alternative to getting vaccinated.”

Across all demographic groups, perhaps the most striking reason given for avoiding the flu vaccine is that people do not see it as efficacious as, say, the measles vaccine.

Indeed, it is a good vaccine but not a great one. It must be repeated annually. Immunity takes up to two weeks to kick in. But its efficacy also depends on how accurately infectious disease centers worldwide forecast which strains are expected to circulate in the coming year. And then those strains can mutate.

Although the flu shot confers immunity at all ages over six months, it can be less complete in people over 65. Depending on many factors, the shot’s effectiveness in a given year can range from 40 to 60 percent.

“But a vaccine not given won’t protect anyone,” said Dr. Jane R. Zucker, assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Immunization at the New York City Health Department, which has been hosting webinars for providers about how to have conversations about the flu shot with hesitant patients.

As health officials note, should a vaccinated person contract the flu, the severity will almost certainly be reduced, hospitalization rarely necessary. Especially with Covid-19 raging, public officials reason, those odds look pretty good.

Another reason people give for not getting the shot is they think it makes them sick.

“People who say ‘I’ll never get it because it gives me the flu’ have not had the flu and don’t know what it is,” said Patsy Stinchfield, senior director of infection prevention at Children’s Minnesota.

“What you’re feeling is your body’s immune response to the virus’s antigens,” said Ms. Stinchfield, a member of the C.D.C.’s influenza work group. “You may feel flu-ish. And that’s a good thing. It’s your body’s way of saying, ‘I am ready for the flu, and I won’t get as sick if I get the real one.’”

Public campaigns will describe the shot as a critical weapon during the pandemic. “Hopefully people will say, ‘There’s no Covid vaccine so I can’t control that, but I do have access to the flu vaccine and I can get that,’” Ms. Stinchfield said. “It gives you a little power to protect yourself.”

Other campaigns will emphasize familial and community responsibility.

Usually, flu vaccine compliance rates among people ages 18 to 49 are low. Vermont’s, for example, is only about 27 percent.

Christine Finley, the state’s immunization program manager, believes that rates will improve because of the pandemic’s stay-at-home households. “People are more aware that the risks they take can negatively impact others,” she said. “They’re often taking care of young children and older parents.”

If any example could prove instructive about protective behavior and flu vaccines during the coronavirus epidemic, it could well be Australia.

Australia’s flu vaccine rate tends to be modest, but this year demand was high. The government’s rollout of the shot began earlier than usual for the June-through-August winter because the coronavirus pandemic was exploding. Though the government had also issued strict no-entry limits among many states and territories and bans on international travel, the flu shot was one of the few reasons people could emerge from lockdown.

The prevalent strain circulating in the country is Type A, the most common and virulent form of flu, said Dr. Kelly L. Moore, a public health expert at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

According to the C.D.C., Type A is the most likely to circulate globally. It mutates readily, particularly as it jumps between animals and humans.

“There are two strains of Type A influenza in the vaccine,” Dr. Moore said, “and so the very best way to protect yourself is to get the shot.”

Reported cases of flu in Australia have dropped 99 percent compared with 2019.

Australia’s milder-than-usual flu season is likely the result of a number of factors — strong flu vaccination uptake, social distancing, but also severely decreased movement of people,” said Dr. Jonathan Anderson, a spokesman for Seqirus, a supplier of flu vaccine.

But though American public health authorities usually look to Australia’s flu season as a predictive, Australians say this year it’s not a reliable indicator.

“This situation is of no comfort as these measures do not apply to the United States where the populace has never been effectively physical distancing,” nor have the country’s entry restrictions been as onerous, said Dr. Paul Van Buynder, a public health professor at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

All that Americans can do is get vaccinated against flu, he added, because circulation of the coronavirus remains high.

“It is likely they will have a significant influenza season this northern winter,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Walgreens invests $1B in primary care clinics with VillageMD deal

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/walgreens-invests-1b-in-primary-care-clinics-with-villagemd-deal/581208/

Walgreens plans to open up to 700 primary care clinics as part of ...

Dive Brief:

  • Walgreens on Wednesday announced plans to open up to 700 primary care clinics across the country over the next five years in partnership with medical services provider VillageMD, and “hundreds more” after that.
  • As part of the agreement, Walgreens will invest $1 billion in equity and convertible debt in Chicago-based VillageMD over the next three years, including a $250 million equity investment Wednesday. VillageMD will use 80% of the funds to pay for opening the clinics, called Village Medical at Walgreens, and integrate digitally with Walgreens.
  • Walgreens, which saw its stock rise slightly in early morning trading on the news, anticipates owning 30% of VillageMD once the investment is done. More details on the partnership will be released in the first quarter next year.

Dive Insight:

Retail clinics, which can generate additional script-writing and drive front-of-store sales for their owners, have seen renewed interest in recent years from giants like pharmacy rival CVS Health and retail behemoth Walmart. But Walgreens is the first national pharmacy chain to work toward building out a primary care infrastructure in stores across the U.S.

The move represents a massive investment in the healthcare delivery space for the Illinois-based company, which began trialing the full-service doctor’s offices in its stores late last year with five clinics in Houston, Texas. The pilot was successful, Walgreens said, driving high patient satisfaction scores.

Additionally, the integrated pharmacy model is correlated with increased medication adherence and better patient outcomes, according to internal VillageMD data — important factors in managing chronic conditions, which drive roughly 85% of all U.S. healthcare spend.

As such, Walgreens plans to open 500 to 700 stores over the next five years, staffed by more than 3,600 primary care physicians recruited by VillageMD, along with nurses, social workers and therapists working alongside Walgreens’ pharmacists in 30 U.S. markets.

The two companies are still finalizing what those initial markets are going to be, but the very first will be in Texas and Arizona, Walgreens’ Director of Pharmacy and Healthcare Services Communications Kelli Teno told Healthcare Dive. More than half of the clinics will be located in government-designated medically underserved areas such as Houston, which have a large share of low-income populations, migrant workers and Medicaid beneficiaries.

The stores will accept a broad array of insurance options, according to the release. Many plans VillageMD works with have a zero dollar to $10 co-pay for primary care services, Teno said.

The clinics use a sliding scale payment model for patients who don’t have insurance to try to make care more affordable for the broad range of primary care services provided, like preventative visits, acute infection or minor trauma care or chronic condition management.

Telehealth will be available around the clock for consumers via Walgreens’ healthcare marketplace app, called Find Care, or via VillageMD’s internal capabilities. VillageMD doctors can also provide at-home doctor visits for vulnerable populations, such as senior citizens or the immunocompromised.

Walgreens already has 14 in-store primary care clinics operated by different partners like Partners in Primary Care, Southwest Medical — part of Optum’s physician group — and VillageMD. Late last year, Walgreens announced it was closing 160 of its internally staffed walk-in clinics, though it still has more than 400 clinics nationwide, most staffed or run by local health systems or physician groups.

Its outsourcing model flies against CVS, which built out its health-focused store network, called HealthHUBs, through acquisitions and builds. HealthHUBs designate at least a fifth of floor space to health and wellness focused products. CVS plans to have a chain of 1,500 locations by the end of 2021 as part of its enterprise growth strategy, adding to its almost 10,000 retail locations and more than 1,100 walk-in medical clinics.

For its part, Walgreens’ clinics will be between 3,300 and 9,000 square feet and use existing space within Walgreens’ locations. To make room, clinic-linked stores will offer fewer unhealthy front-end products like snacks and sodas. Tobacco products will not be sold in the first 200 Village Medical at Walgreens locations.

“Many of the stores that we’re initially looking at to build these clinics naturally sell more pharmacy and health and wellness products,” Teno said. “It will really depend on the needs of that local community.”

VillageMD, through its subsidiary Village Medical, includes more than 2,800 doctors across nine markets. The seven-year-old company, which competes with other primary care management companies like UnitedHealth-owned Optum has raised $216 million in total funding across three rounds from investors like Oak HC/FT and Town Hall Ventures, a firm founded by Andy Slavitt, former CMS administrator under President Barack Obama.

 

 

 

Walmart confirms a new avatar — it’s also a health insurance agency

https://medcitynews.com/2020/07/walmart-confirms-a-new-avatar-its-also-a-health-insurance-broker/?utm_campaign=MCN%20Daily%20Top%20Stories&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=90973681&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-81Jwk3CVNhJLTDzB0d_5dxRASKqJQULhnQYEg1uxEGxr-l_EbrHhNlSq7UcPZ103ku0wBylrpCk8Y0i1vrK7rRE5rJuA&utm_content=90973681&utm_source=hs_email

Should I buy health insurance from Walmart? - Castaline Insurance ...

Walmart quietly launched a new health insurance business. The company, called Walmart Insurance, was filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State last month.

Walmart is making clear what an executive declared in a virtual conference: that it is firmly in the healthcare business, not just in retail healthcare.

News emerged today that the company is planning to throw its weight around in another healthcare segment in need of an overhaul: insurance. A spokeswoman from the Bentonville, Arkansas retail behemoth confirmed that the company has created “Walmart Insurance Services LLC” to sell insurance policies. The business entity’s name was first filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State in late June.

“We currently offer access to insurance information in our Walmart Health locations, and we have a long-standing education program called Healthcare Begins Here to help people find the right insurance plan for them,” spokeswoman Marilee McInnis wrote in an email. “We’re expanding our current insurance services to now include the sale of insurance policies to our customers.”

A handful of job postings at a call center in the Dallas metro also match up with Walmart Insurance Services, as first pointed out by Talk Business & Politics. Walmart has listings for licensed insurance agents and Medicare sales supervisors.

“Yes, you read that right, Walmart now has an insurance agency,” the listings read.

It looks like the new subsidiary will be focused on selling Medicare Advantage plans, though the company was mum when asked for additional details. The spokeswoman’s statement about the “sale of insurance policies to our customers” also leaves open the possibility of Walmart expanding its services beyond senior shoppers in the future.

Medicare Advantage plans have been experiencing rapid growth in the past decade, with more than a third of all beneficiaries enrolled in a plan managed by a private insurer. That figure is expected to increase in the future.

 

Deeper into the pharmacy space

Separately, on Tuesday, Walmart announced that it had struck a partnership with  PBM startup Capital Rx, which provides health plans real-time information on prescription drug prices.

Walmart has been a big player in the pharmacy space for several years, and the company appears to be deepening that through this partnership

“‘Everyday low price’ has been a guiding principle at Walmart. We take pride in providing affordable prices to more than 160 million customers who shop Walmart each week,” Walmart Health and Wellness Vice President Luke Kleyn said in a news release. “Working with Capital Rx will allow us to do the same for prescription drugs,”

Capital Rx was founded just over two years ago by AJ Loiacono, a former insurance auditor, with the idea of providing drug prices as part of pharmacy benefit plans.

Loiacono started his career in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, where “everything that comes out of that plant has a price.”

When he moved over to the auditing and procurement side, working with payers and self-insured companies, he was shocked to find out that none of their contracts included drug prices. To solve this, the company uses Medicaid’s National Average Drug Acquisition Cost, rather than the average wholesale price, to calculate costs.

As a standalone company, Capital Rx was able to provide price information for retail drugs, but they weren’t able to do the same for mail and specialty drugs. The partnership with Walmart will “complete the model,” with Walmart providing mail and specialty drug fulfillment.

With the partnership, Capital Rx was able to quickly sign on some payers, though it hasn’t yet disclosed which ones.

“Walmart is a diversified company. We liked the fact that they were independent. They’re not part of a PBM or a health system today,” Loiacono said. “The other part of it is, they have scale.”

Loiacono also pointed to similar goals in price transparency — something Walmart emphasized when it shared the cash pay prices for its new health clinics.

“This is what we’re seeing a little bit more of as the future in the roadmap,” Loiacono said. “They’re making a serious investment in healthcare.”