For a long time, free market advocates such as myself have been suggesting that Capitalism can solve the growing issues in our healthcare industry. If that happens, this might be a time to remember in history.
Walmart has unveiled their first ever Health Center in Dallas, Georgia. The clinic, doctor's office, health center, or whatever you want to call it, has some pretty great features that have a legitimate shot at eliminating some of the waste in our health care system.
The Walmart Health Center offers Primary Care, Dental, Vision, Hearing, including lab tests, EKG's, and X-rays. In addition, they offer community health (fitness and nutrition), individual counseling, and education on health insurance when needed.
The clinic, however, will be geared towards cash payment customers, offering extremely transparent pricing on nearly all of their services. How transparent is the pricing? You can find pricing on their website.
As you can see from the pricing sheet taken from Walmart's website, the prices are very competitive, if not the cheapest on the market. A primary care visit for the first time would cost you $40, and an annual checkup would cost $30. On the dental side, an exam would cost $25, and a filling would cost any from $75-$150.
The Initial Reaction
Reactions from the stock market are very different from the reactions in the general public. In the investment realm, investors see this as an amazing opportunity for Walmart, and a potential solution to many of our healthcare problems. Business Insider suggests that this can chip away at the estimated $800 billion in wasted expenses every year in the industry.
The public? They've been mixed. I'm sure each of you had the first reaction that I did. "I don't think I'll be getting my healthcare from a place that can't keep their shelves stocked." Or maybe something like, "You get what you pay for, that's why I don't go to Walmart."
Regardless of the exact reaction, my response would be that this will obviously be a separate entity from the inventory manager on the home goods side. The cashiers that are generally terrible? Doesn't really apply, since the doctors in the clinic aren't there working for $11 an hour. Let's give this one a shot, and see how it goes.
The Healthcare Industry
I've spent hours typing out the various issues within the industry leading to higher prices. One of the main issues is that we generally use insurance to pay for everything, including routine visits. Introducing a massive cash payment system for these routine checkups can greatly reduce the costs. It cuts out the middle-man, which isn't always a good thing, but in this case it very well may be.
One of the worst parts of the industry is the situation facing many ER's around the country. A visit to your standard walk-in clinic can cost you $175 cash, but you can get treated in an ER for free. They'll send you a ridiculous bill, but it's rarely paid (that's why it's ridiculous- so when one out of every 10 patients pay, they make the money back). ER's have seen continuous over-crowding due to patients using it as a free walk-in clinic. Walmart creating a model that has an upfront price of $40 could be very enticing for those that don't want to deal with endless collections calls for the remainder of their lives. The ER going back to it's original intent could lower the cost of an ER due to the fact that more emergency patients are likely to pay for their services since a higher ratio of those patients will have insurance.
This is a great experiment being conducted by Walmart. Will the government step in the way and make things more expensive? We shall see.