Walmart and the health insurer CareSource have forged a partnership to conduct risk screenings and provide wellness services to customers at select retail locations in Ohio, the companies announced Tuesday.
The three-year arrangement will focus on improving outcomes among CareSource's Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance exchange policyholders who have conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
Walmart will employ community health workers to conduct risk and social needs assessments at stores and provide life skills and health literacy education, according to a news release. CareSource will use the information it gathers to coordinate nonclinical services, including monthly stipends for certain goods sold at Walmart.
Beneficiaries will also receive a Walmart+ membership that comes with free grocery delivery, fuel discounts and access to the Paramount+ television streaming service. These perks will complement CareSource's insurance benefits and its online programs about nutrition and economic mobility.
The arrangement will give CareSource a competitive advantage in crowded markets by giving its customers access to new services, said Betsy Stanley, healthcare and business growth strategist for the consulting firm Pinkston Strategy. The deal will also facilitate greater engagement with the insurer's members and has the potential to reduce medical spending, she said.
For Walmart, the initiative aligns with its push into health and wellness, she said.
“This partnership will position Walmart as a preferred care provider, grocery store and even lifestyle big box store for CareSource beneficiaries,” Stanley said. “Patients can go wherever in the network, but there are specific benefits to engaging more and more with the Walmart health system."
The pilot program in Ohio is designed to take advantage of nonclinicial interventions to address health disparities, said Abner Mason, CEO and founder of SameSky Health, which advises healthcare companies on how to work with policyholders and patients from underserved populations.
“The person who needs clinical care to manage their diabetes is the same person who needs access to healthier food,” Mason said. “There's a connection between controlling A1C and healthy food but, so often, our system is set up in a very siloed way, and that person isn't treated in a holistic way.”
CareSource, Walmart and Johnson & Johnson announced a separate initiative last month to improve maternal health outcomes in Georgia.
Whether these ventures improve health and reduce disparities will depend on whether people utilize the benefits, Mason said. Insurers have historically failed to connect beneficiaries to nonclinical interventions, if they offer them at all, he said. According to a University of Pittsburgh study published in JAMA last year, fewer than 10% of Medicare-Medicaid dual-eligible beneficiaries with chronic illnesses are offered assistance such as home-delivered meals and social services.
The other side of that equation is also important, said Lawton Robert Burns, a professor of healthcare management at the the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Whether initiatives such as Walmart and CareSource's are effective is heavily reliant on changing patient behavior, which is difficult, he said. For example, Walmart customers may be reluctant to disclose private health information, he said.
“There may be more opportunity there, but I just don't know what the evidence says about getting those kinds of enrollees to do these kinds of things,” he said.