Walmart and health insurer Anthem on Monday announced a program that as of January next year will provide in-store discounts on over-the-counter medicines, products and services to consumers enrolled in Anthem's supplemental Medicare drug program.
The move follows rumors earlier this year that Walmart was in merger talks with health insurance company Humana.
The reports come amid the proliferation of several healthcare-retail partnerships, including Amazon's January announcement that it was partnering with Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to explore new ways to deliver and pay for healthcare, CVS's $69 billion acquisition of health insurer Aetna, Amazon's purchase of PillPack, and, most recently, Best Buy's acquisition of GreatCall.
Walmart has long been a significant player in healthcare. The retail giant already provides medical care and has proven to be not just one of the largest but also among the most innovative pharmacy retailers.
Walmart provides pharmacy services, health clinics, durable medical equipment, immunizations and wellness days, where customers can have their blood pressure taken. A move a few years ago to offer $4 generic drugs was pioneering, Spencer Millerberg, CEO at marketplace analytics firm One Click Retail, told Retail Dive earlier this year.
But these days Walmart is almost behind the curve, as other retailers step into the space. Amazon beat it to the punch in acquiring PillPack, which many analysts had expected Walmart to do, and CVS has steadily built a new brand proposition as a holistic healthcare provider even more than a retailer.
Still, the healthcare sector is in turmoil, with costs and frustrations to consumers only mounting. With the mixed record of the eight-year-old Affordable Care Act and recent efforts to dismantle it, American consumers are increasingly faced with insurance and care options that are ever more expensive.
That kind of market is also poised for disruption, and, as in retail, disruption means opportunity. "The U.S. healthcare industry, including insurers, has never been particularly customer-centric," GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders, told Retail Dive earlier this year. "The tendency to overcomplicate options and plans has led to confusion, low satisfaction and a lack of trust. On top of this poor experience, the industry is riddled with inefficiencies. These things are an anathema to most retailers, particularly so to Walmart."
While disruption is instigating some partnerships, more old-fashioned demographics are too. Like Best Buy's purchase of GreatCall last week, the new Anthem-Walmart tie-up reflects the enduring consumer power of baby boomers, who are facing increasing healthcare needs that retailers are moving in to meet.