About those healthcare costs... Part 3. What if Wal Mart got in the act? (GASP!) - Granite Grok

About those healthcare costs… Part 3. What if Wal Mart got in the act? (GASP!)


Hospital sign


In prior postings on the subject, I noted that the delivery of health care services in my local region is controlled in total by a single monopoly. I wrote
…the local "non profit" health-delivery institution is, for all intents and purposes, a monopoly. Through the years, they have worked all the machinations of government regulations to stifle any and all competition that has attempted to make its mark in the area. They have now either driven from business or purchased any effectively competing health-care delivery service that would bring any alternative choices to the area. With no market forces working against the costs, they rise exponentially.
When a person has catastrophic insurance to cover "the big stuff", it’s "pay as you go" for the sore throats and other various "minor" medical needs– coming straight from the wallet. That describes many people I know. Dittoes for those with huge deductibles on their insurance policies. When paying out of pocket, it goes without saying that whatever is saved for the health care service is money left for food and other life needs.
No one will deny that when Wal Mart showed up on the scene, people were able to spend less money for life’s necessities like toilet paper and food storage containers. This left more to spend on other things, thus increasing the standard of living for consumers of all stripes. Wouldn’t it be good if, instead of being left at the mercy of a monopolistic system with no incentive to control costs to the consumer, somebody like a Wal Mart could offer low-cost alternatives for some of the more mundane medical matters of life?
It’s already happening. The Financial Times has the story:
Can a retail store deliver healthcare? Wal-Mart, the largest US retailer, thinks so, together with CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, the leading US drug store chains.
Guess what? This isn’t well-liked by those who represent the status quo in the current medical-industrial complex. Again from the FT.com story, reporting on pending legislative action in response in Illinois and Massachusetts:
as all four move ahead with plans to expand “walk-in clinics” in their stores, the doctors of Illinois are fighting back.
Of course they would. Being part of a monopolistic system with no pressures (other than lawsuits) driving quality or costs in a "consumer-centric" (patient) direction, they would quite naturally fear having to function in a more highly-competitive atmosphere. After spending years in protected fashion, who wouldn’t?

Walk-in clinics represent one of the most advanced and aggressive attempts by US business and entrepreneurs to drive reform of the healthcare system.

This year hundreds will be opened in some of the US’s largest drugstore and retail groups, and thousands of clinics could be running in the next decade.

Advocates say the clinics will improve access to healthcare and reduce costs; that they will reduce more expensive visits to hospital emergency rooms; and that they will catch some illnesses before they become serious and costly. As a result, physicians will have more time for complex cases.

But the clinics also have a direct impact on doctors, who see themselves as the gatekeepers of common, everyday healthcare.