Walmart is expanding its virtual care benefits nationally after seeing it reduced healthcare costs by 11%
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Walmart is going to give all of its US employees access to a virtual care program that it piloted over the last several years after finding that it led to a meaningful reduction in health costs.
The program, run by virtual care and navigation company Included Health, offer offers Walmart employees virtual care benefits like primary care and some specialty care like physical therapy or at-home lab testing for a $0 copay.
The program expanded from a handful of states to more than 20 in a pilot phase over the last three years. During that time, Walmart has seen an 11% reduction in its healthcare costs and a 38% reduction in hospital costs for those employees, Included Health CEO Owen Tripp and Lisa Woods, Walmart’s vice president of wellbeing told Endpoints News on the sidelines of the HLTH conference in Las Vegas.
Walmart last year spent $6 billion on healthcare for the 1 million employees and dependents who it covers, Bloomberg reported.
Woods and Tripp shared the results of the pilot onstage at the conference on Tuesday. Woods said ahead of the presentation that she hoped to let other employers know that they, too, can save money while providing more comprehensive care.
“Innovation is hard,” Woods said. “But if you stay at it, these are the kind of results that you get.”
Finding ways to lower healthcare costs while improving access
Employers cover the health costs of nearly 160 million Americans. Many, like Walmart, are self-insured, meaning they’re on the hook for the medical spending of their employees. Walmart, for its part, has over the years found ways to lower its healthcare spending through programs like its long-running Centers of Excellence program, in which Walmart pays for employees to travel and get procedures like a hip replacement done. Its intent is to provide better care at a lower cost.
Walmart started working with Included Health — the name of the healthcare upstart given when Grand Rounds and Doctor on Demand merged in 2021 — in 2016, offering virtual care services for urgent-care-like appointments for conditions like sore throats and ear infections. Over time, Walmart added therapy and got positive responses from its employees, Woods said.
That led to a virtual primary care launch in January 2020 (prescient timing ahead of a massive uptick in virtual care). It started with three states before growing to 21 states as of 2023 before Tuesday’s announcement. By proving that the program could lower Walmart’s healthcare spending by 11% over the course of the pilot, Tripp said the two organizations have found a recipe they want more people to know about as a way to lower healthcare costs.
“There’s been this trade-off of, ‘The only way we make it less expensive is we make it really punitive for you to afford it. We’re going to do these nasty things like drive, high coinsurance, we’re going to make it impossible for you to obtain care,’” Tripp said. “Or you say, maybe we shift the way care is delivered. And we say that virtual care actually, at its cost point, can be a different way of thinking about access to primary care.”