Walmart expands benefits with healthcare pilots

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Walmart is experimenting with new benefits designed to help make healthcare more accessible to its employees.

Starting early next year, select Walmart locations will have access to a new platform that pairs employees with a local doctor. Employees in Colorado, Wisconsin and Minnesota will have access to expanded telehealth benefits that cost $4 per appointment. Locations in North Carolina and South Carolina will be testing a healthcare concierge service that helps with billing and appointments. All of the programs will roll out the beginning of next year.

“If we get this right, we can raise the tide for all healthcare,” says Lisa Woods, Walmart’s senior director of U.S. benefits.

The nation’s largest private employer is partnering with Embold Health to provide the physician recommendation platform to employees in areas of Arkansas, Florida and Texas. Embold’s creator says the platform makes finding appropriate care easier by sharing data on doctor performance.

“Data informs so many of the decisions we make today, everything from what route we take to work to where and what we eat,” said Dr. Daniel Stein, CEO and founder of Embold Health. “Yet when it comes to arguably one of our most important decisions — what doctor should I trust to provide my care — we still rely mostly on word of mouth or online directories.”

Prior to founding Embold, Stein served as Walmart’s chief medical officer from 2015 to 2017.

Woods showcased some of the data on Embold’s platform during a webinar last week. During the webcast, she used a fictional scenario where a pregnant employee was trying to choose a doctor for her baby’s delivery. One local physician, in the scenario, performed C-section births 49% of the time. The World Health Organization says, ideally, C-sections should be performed 10-15% of the time, and for emergencies only. The data provided by Embold suggests that particular physician overuses C-section delivery, Woods says.

“[Walmart] will run the data quarterly to create a custom network of top care physicians,” Woods says. “Our goal is to raise the tide of care.”

The cost of a C-section birth is double that of a natural delivery, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. Using Embold’s data to choose a doctor helps the employee, and Walmart, save money on healthcare, Woods says. Embold’s platform can be applied to a variety of medical situations for cost and care comparison, according to Stein.

“We know that there is tremendous variation in the quality of medical care within local communities and around the country,” Stein says. “Throughout my career in medicine, policy and business, I’ve struggled with the fact [that] there is no way for anyone, including doctors, to identify the best providers — those that consistently deliver care that is high quality, medically appropriate and reasonably priced.”

Embold’s partnership with Walmart — and program design — caught the attention of other benefit professionals, who see the model as an opportunity to drive down the increasing cost of healthcare.

“Employers must ensure they’re doing all they can to address increasing healthcare costs, both to ease the financial burden on employees but also to protect the business’ bottom line,” says Misty Guinn, director of benefits and wellness at Benefitfocus. “I applaud Walmart for adopting a more holistic plan design that supports better healthcare consumerism and offers a variety of benefits options.”

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