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Blog | Innovation and Disruption

Retailers partnering with healthcare companies to expand access

Blog | Innovation and Disruption

Retailers partnering with healthcare companies to expand access

  • On Nov. 25, Walgreens announced a partnership with UnitedHealthcare in certain geographic areas, and Kroger announced a partnership with a local Ascension ministry.
  • Although Kroger’s announcement isn’t innovative, it is a good example of how health systems can partner with retailers to create convenient access to care in physical locations.
  • Based on available details, the Walgreens/UHC partnership looks like it’s more about foot traffic for both parties than providing a vehicle for care management and member engagement.

Walgreens announced Nov. 25 a partnership with UHC to open “Medicare Member Services Centers.” According to the press release, “the services centers will begin to open in January 2020 at Walgreens stores in the Las Vegas, Phoenix, Cleveland, Denver and Memphis markets. Through these centers, Walgreens customers can learn more about Medicare, meet with service advocates to discuss their UnitedHealthcare plan benefits and even enroll in plans. UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members can also make an appointment for an in-store annual wellness visit at the Medicare services center in Walgreens through UnitedHealthcare’s HouseCalls program, helping make it easier to get needed care, tests and treatment.”

Kroger on Nov. 25 also announced a partnership with a local Ascension ministry with hints of more to come. According to Healthcare Dive, “Kroger recently launched a new healthcare initiative called Kroger 360care, the Cincinnati Business Courier reported. It expands the grocer's healthcare services and allows hospitals and healthcare networks to use Kroger's resources to provide more access and lower-cost care. As an extension of its 360care, Kroger recently partnered with a Tennessee hospital and healthcare network Ascension Saint Thomas Health to expand services to Kroger customers. The grocer said similar partnerships will follow. Kroger currently operates 215 Little Clinic locations across nine states and has more than 2,000 pharmacies. The company has previously expressed interest in a healthcare venture.”


Two thoughts on these items.

Walgreens/UHC: Given Walgreen’s recently announced it is closing 40% of its instore clinics, I’m not sure what to make of this announcement. At first blush, this looks like it’s about foot traffic for both parties. For UHC, this really makes sense in Denver, Phoenix and Vegas as they employ physicians in all three markets (less so in Cleveland and Memphis given they don’t have employed physicians in these markets).

Boomers are aging into Medicare, which is driving growth in MA. Having a retail location (similar to what Florida Blue has done) provides an opportunity to deliver in-person customer service (supporting member acquisition/retention) and offering wellness visits to manage those members. For UHC, the wellness visit, at a minimum, is an opportunity to capture all of the members’ chronic conditions, which increases the accuracy of risk coding. It also would help connect those who lack a standing relationship with a primary care provider and potentially unmanaged rising-risk members with an Optum primary care provider in the three markets where they have an employed group, which should help manage the total cost of care.

Maybe UHC has close alignment with independent PCPs in Cleveland and Memphis, which covers off the “manage members” piece of this for the other two markets. And if that’s the case, this makes complete sense to me from the UHC side.

For Walgreens, I’m scratching my head. It doesn’t sound like from the press release that UHC is going to provide member engagement activities (e.g. care consulting, health education, nutrition advice, fitness activities, wellness programs), which would drive reoccurring foot traffic. Maybe that’s in the offing, maybe some of it’s provided by Walgreen staff, and it’s just not stated.  But if it’s not, all Walgreens is getting out of this is a rent check, which seems like a missed opportunity to drive UnitedHealthcare members into the store on a regular basis and increase same store sales at a time when retailers are struggling to fend off Amazon and other retailers who deliver commodity products and prescriptions to your doorstep.

Kroger: This isn’t necessarily new or innovative but is a good example of how health systems can partner with retailers to create convenient access to care in physical locations. To a certain extent, this can help stave off the encroachment of Walmart, CVS/Aetna and other potential non-traditional entrants. However, the thing this doesn’t solve for is the virtual access piece. While systems can acquire this separately, they’ll need to carefully think through how they stitch the disparate pieces into a seamless solution that solves for the consumer problem of effective, affordable and convenient healthcare.

About the Author

Chad Mulvany

is director, healthcare finance policy, strategy and development, HFMA’s Washington, D.C., office.

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