Walmart will close all of its health clinics

new York

Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States, will close its 51 health centers in six states and end virtual health services, the company announced Tuesday.

Walmart has taken a big step forward in health care in recent years, opening clinics alongside its big box stores offering primary and urgent care, labs, x-rays, behavioral health services and nursing. dental – in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri and Texas. Walmart believed it could use its massive financial size and store network to offer convenient, low-cost services to patients in rural and underserved areas who lacked primary care options.

But the announcement is a stark reversal of Walmart’s strategy and could leave a gap in access to health care, particularly for low-income and uninsured patients who relied on the centers. Walmart also announced it would end virtual healthcare services.

“One of the unique things about our brand was that they focused on stores in underserved communities. It’s disappointing that Walmart couldn’t make it work because these patients need care and don’t have as many options,” said Ateev Mehrotra, a Harvard professor of health care policy and medicine. Medical School, which studies retail health clinics.

Walmart said it was a “difficult decision” but that its health care efforts were not profitable for the company due to the company’s “challenging reimbursement environment and escalating health care costs.” ‘exploitation’.

“We determined that there was no sustainable business model to continue,” the company said.

Mehrotra said the Walmart closures reflect the challenges facing primary care providers in the United States. A shortage of up to 55,000 primary care doctors is expected over the next decade, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“This experience highlights the financial challenges facing primary care in general. This really speaks to the situation that primary clinics are facing,” he said.

Walmart said it will continue to operate its 4,600 pharmacies and more than 3,000 optical centers across the country.

Walmart opened clinics to try to fill a gap for its customers without health insurance, as well as people on insurance plans with high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.

“Health care seems like a big opportunity,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillion said in 2020, shortly after the first clinics opened.

Skyrocketing costs and access to primary care options remain persistent challenges, particularly in rural areas. Walmart chose some of its locations because those areas had higher chronic disease rates and fewer primary care doctors than the average U.S. community.

Marcus Osborne, Walmart’s former vice president of health and wellness transformation, told CNN in 2020 that people who showed up at clinics often hadn’t seen a primary care doctor in two or three years, nor a dentist for five years.

Walmart has faced several challenges with its health clinics, including a shortage of medical staff, said Robert Field, a professor of health management and policy at Drexel University.

The Walmart closures show that retail strength doesn’t always translate to health care, he said.

“It’s different from selling products, like toothpaste and breakfast cereals, and it requires different types of expertise and management,” Field said.

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