Wal-Mart Wants To Be Your Doctor

After years of "Will they or won’t they?" discussion, Wal-Mart is making its long-awaited move into delivering primary care: The retailer has quietly opened half a dozen primary care clinics across South Carolina and Texas and plans to launch six more before January.

The clinics will be staffed by nurse practitioners in a partnership with QuadMed.

Wal-Mart watchers know the company already has more than 100 "retail clinics" across its stores, a strategy it's pursued for years. So why fuss over a handful of new clinics?

Because unlike those retail clinics -- which Wal-Mart hosts through leases with local hospitals, resulting inmixed success -- these new clinics are fully owned by the company and branded explicitly as one-stop shops for primary care.

Because the clinics will be open longer and later than competitors: 12 hours per day during the week and another 8-plus hours per day on weekends.

And because of the company's size and scale: Wal-Mart's potential as a disruptive innovator in healthcare is essentially peerless.

The company's move comes at an ideal time to capture consumers: Millions of Americans are getting insurance coverage through Obamacare, and seeking new, convenient sources of care. Wal-Mart's stressed that its clinics will be a low-cost alternative to traditional options: Walk-in visits will cost just $40.

And for the hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart employees covered by the company health plan, well, it's even cheaper.

"For our associates and dependents on the health plan, you can come and see a provider in the Wal-Mart Care Clinic for $4. Four dollars!" Jennifer LaPerre, a company official, said last week. "That is setting a new retail price in the health care industry," she added.