Summary: Major general retailers, like Amazon and Walmart, are acquiring large medical care delivery networks. And they’re linking to Medicare Advantage, a huge cash cow for insurers and linked providers. We need single payer to interrupt the corporate takeover.
How major retailers are trying to change how America consumes health care
March 8, 2023
By Tina Reed
Amazon, Walmart, CVS, Dollar General and other big retailers are elbowing their way into health care delivery, pushing a customized consumer experience driven by digital health products.
At its core, these companies are pulling together different tech-enabled services – urgent, primary, more and specialty care, pharmacy, and, in some cases, full integration with an insurer.
But the retailers’ forays are prompting growing anti-trust and privacy concerns, as well as fears of further erosion of the doctor patient relationship once considered central to coordinated care.
Amazon brought in an on-demand virtual care services platform, more than 125 locations and a piece of the Medicare Advantage business (with the company’s $3.9 billion acquisition of concierge medicine provider One Medical).
Best Buy Health launched a hospital-at-home program with North Carolina-based Atrium Health.
Walmart announced last week that it plans to nearly double the footprint of its in-store clinics. In the fall, Walmart also inked a 10-year Medicare Advantage deal with UnitedHealth Group.
In January, CVS Health announced a plan to buy Oak Street Health, a primary care group focused on Medicare patients. The pharmacy giant already owns insurer Aetna, pharmacy benefit manager CVS-Caremark, home health company Signify Health and health care service brands MinuteClinic and HealthHUB.
Also in January, Walgreen-backed primary care company VillageMD, scooped up more primary, specialty and urgent care investments augmenting plans to open more than 500 full-service doctors’ offices in Walgreens locations.
Other companies like Rite Aid, Albertsons, and Dollar General have launched programs in health care delivery.
Amazon, CVS and Walmart have made some of the most consequential moves by combining their massive retail footprints with assets like primary or urgent care sites, pharmacies, and some sort of relationship with insurers.
“They’re all acquiring every piece of medicine,” Robert Pearl, a Stanford University professor and former CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, told Axios.
In recent months, retailers are investing in end-to-end primary care. “That’s what gets me increasingly excited about their role because there’s only so much you can do as the urgent care provider and much much more you can do when you have that longitudinal relationship between the doctor and a patient over time,” said Jacob Effron, a principal at Redpoint Ventures.
Each of these businesses are also clearly eyeing a clearly lucrative segment of health care: Medicare Advantage.
Comment by: Don McCanne
It appears that the capture of the health care delivery system by private equity is moving along quite smartly. That is coordinated with private insurance, especially Medicare Advantage plans. The result is a massive cash cow, the “money machine” as we’ve discussed often in HJM.
Two significant trends in this regard have been not only the increase in private Medicare Advantage plans but also the rising recognition that single payer Medicare for All may be the answer to the financial burden that has been created by uninsurance, underinsurance, deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and disallowed services.
The problem is that they seem to be setting the stage for privatized Medicare Advantage for All, combining the worst of the medical industrial complex. This likely will move even more of our health care dollars into the hands of the uber-capitalists, as Bernie Sanders is explaining on his current book tour, but it will leave care for patients and their providers underfunded, making the wealthy wealthier and the rest of us mired in mediocrity, at best.
No. We don’t want the private sector proposals designed to create more wealth for the wealthy. We want reform designed to provide health services for all of us. But we are rapidly heading in the wrong direction. We need to enact and implement a well-designed single payer Medicare for All, and we need to do it IMMEDIATELY! The billionaires are already swarming.