Viewpoints

Wal-Mart Defies Critics, Wins Health Care Support

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Let’s give credit where it’s due.

Wal-Mart, long the bane of unions and unionized grocery chains, known for its poor labor practices, including providing inadequate health care for its 1.4 million associates, is now leading the charge, along with its rival Safeway, to reform the nation’s health care system.

For Wal-Mart the timing couldn’t be better, with health care reform capturing the public’s attention as President Obama makes it his No. 1 domestic priority.

How has Wal-Mart gone from being the scourge of its associates as a stingy provider of health care benefits and not paying its “fair share” into the system to today’s leadership role?

A game-changing moment came in 2006 when Wal-Mart launched its $4 prescription drug program. In doing so, it did what Big Pharma failed to do — lower the nation’s drug costs for both insured and uninsured. The $4 prescription program has saved Americans more than $2 billion since its launch, according to Wal-Mart. The move also brought Wal-Mart’s competitors into the discount drug arena, saving shoppers additional money on medications.

Wal-Mart continues to expand and tweak this program. Last year, it offered 350 generic medications at $10 for a 90-day supply; a $4 OTC program; and expanded its offering of women’s medications. In Michigan, earlier this year, it launched a pilot mail-order program. Economically stressed Michigan consumers can call a toll-free number or go online to order a 90-day supply of generic drugs for $10 with free delivery.

Other initiatives are:

• Hosting independent medical clinics in its stores. Last year, Wal-Mart opened co-branded clinics with local hospitals under “The Clinic at Walmart” logo.

• Partnering with others like Blue Cross and the Mayo Clinic to reduce costs.

• Joining a coalition of organizations — Better Health Care Together — which includes unions, to seek a common-sense approach to health care.

Wal-Mart associates have seen their benefits improve with more insurance options and lower eligibility rates. This year, more disease and illness prevention options were introduced, including “Life with Baby,” a program which helps mothers and their babies get a healthy start.

Today, Wal-Mart claims 94.5% of its associates are insured overall, and 51.8% are insured through its plans.

The company said the number of uninsured associates has dropped by nearly 25% in the past year and by more than 40% between 2007-2009. Compared to the most recently reported data by the U.S. Census Bureau, Wal-Mart’s uninsured rate of 5.5% is 11.3% lower than the uninsured rate nationwide for the U.S. employed population (16.8%).

Wal-Mart is a force to be reckoned with in changing the nation’s health care system. That, critics can’t deny. The company is leveraging its partnerships and managing its supply chain to lower health care costs. It’s integral to the “Save Money, Live Better” strategy and Wal-Mart’s overall competitiveness.

Contributors

David Orgel

David Orgel is executive director, content & user engagement, of Supermarket News (SN) and its website, SupermarketNews.com. Orgel delivers his opinions on industry trends through a bi-weekly...

Jon Springer

Jon Springer has been writing about food, food retailers and food retailing for more than 10 years, and is in his second tour of duty with Supermarket News. His prior experience includes covering the...
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