Walmart: First it replaced your bank, now it wants to replace your doctor. The retailer says it intends to "dramatically ... lower the cost of healthcare ... by becoming the largest provider of primary healthcare services in the nation," according to a recent request for information sent to potential health partners. The request (which, NPR notes, came during the same week Walmart announced it was slashing employee health insurance benefits) indicates that the company plans to offer a very broad range of healthcare services in-store, overseeing patients with conditions ranging from diabetes to depression to HIV.
Walmart has already opened about 140 in-store clinics, but apparently wants to compete with companies like CVS and Walgreens, which run many more. The move comes as demand for primary care is expected to rise in 2014, when more Americans will be expected to have insurance coverage, and it could lower costs for some patients. But family physicians say patients would be better served by a consistent doctor who knows their medical history, and other critics aren’t even sure the approach will truly attack health care’s "cost problems"—one physician notes that primary care services aren't the source of the country's major health care costs. One thing is for sure: Adding more clinics would mean getting more customers in the door, and "if you get someone in the door," says one retail analyst, "you can also sell them milk and a shotgun." (Read more Walmart stories.)