Amazon, WalMart and Healthcare – Oh My! 

Oct 03 2019

Disruptive change is happening in all corners of the healthcare industry and beyond its traditional boundaries. In the first half of 2019 alone, $5.1B has been spent in healthcare-related venture capital. But nothing draws more attention than when a giant consumer brand -- with universal name recognition and undying consumer loyalty -- shows clear signs of entering the healthcare industry.  In recent months, as brands like Amazon and WalMart announced partnerships and mergers with healthcare entities, speculation reached a fever pitch:  What were these partnerships for? Would these companies launch services for their employees, their consumers, or both? 

Some answers have begun to emerge in the past month. WalMart opened a new primary care clinic in Georgia, WalMart Health, that also offers services in dentistry and behavioral health. The company is also expanding their Live Better U education benefit program for employees to include “seven bachelor’s degrees and two career diplomas in health-related fields for $1 a day.”  With an eye towards the forecasted growth of healthcare jobs in the next 10 years, WalMart is helping employees get a head start.  The program is also expected to help WalMart provide affordable and accessible healthcare within their communities.  This multi-faceted approach towards disrupting the healthcare industry even includes a consumer-focused healthcare bundle discount program, available through Sam’s Club, for dental care, generic prescriptions, and telehealth consultations. While not intended to replace health insurance, the bundles can help community members with increasing out-of-pocket expenses, particularly in high-deductible plans. Walmart’s stated goal for all of these moves: to help make “healthcare more affordable and accessible for customers in the communities we serve.”

Meanwhile, Amazon’s latest move is to launch AmazonCare – a “new virtual health service benefit for employees and their families in the Seattle region.” AmazonCare is multi-modal, allowing employees to access virtual and in-person healthcare services from its partner, Washington-based Oasis Medical Group P.C. The service is being offered in conjunction with new on-site primary care clinics in the company’s Seattle headquarters. These offerings are consistent with other healthcare moves Amazon has made, including establishing Haven with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway and acquiring PillPack – all of which have potential to cause significant disruption in the healthcare market.

As many employers struggle to control health cost growth while ensuring that employees have access to affordable care, it’s important to remain open to what these nontraditional players can bring to the fight.  Amazon and WalMart built their brands on offering consumers lower cost and greater convenience, and they have the same goals for their healthcare offerings. But they are but two examples of many new entrants and new services in health care delivery.  As new opportunities emerge, consider everything you know about your population and what would have the greatest impact on how they currently access health care (or not) and how they take care of themselves (or not). Healthcare is very personal, so some of these offerings will be a better fit than others.  With a growing marketplace of services to choose from, you don’t have to be WalMart or Amazon to make a difference in your employees’ lives. 

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