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Now available: Health services at the grocery store

Maryalene LaPonsie | January 11, 2011

Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is stepping out of the box. Best known for the "big box" concept of retailing, the company is heading into a new frontier. While its Sam's Club stores had previously offered health insurance for businesses and discounts to individuals, a new product dubbed The Prevention Plan marks the first time the store has offered a direct-to-consumers wellness program, according to a Sam's Club news release.

Grocery store medical coverage

Better known for mega packs of toilet paper, Sam's Club caters to businesses and thrifty individuals who simply can't get enough ketchup at bargain basement prices. Members pay an annual membership fee which allows them access not only to grocery items, but also to clothes, books, electronics and more.

Now, for $99, Sam's Club members can purchase an annual subscription to The Prevention Plan. Not to be confused with health insurance, the plan offers an assortment of services intended to help members avoid costly visits to the doctor for preventable illnesses.

The Prevention Plan subscribers receive the following:

  • Health risk assessment
  • Home blood test
  • Recommendations for health screenings
  • Personalized prevention plan and health screening tracking
  • Two sessions with a health coach
  • Access to health library and wellness tools

In addition, participants are provided with a confidential health record with summaries that can be printed and brought to a physician for further care.

In a CNN interview, Christopher Fey, CEO of plan administrator U.S. Preventive Medicine, likened its services to that of a financial planner. The plan brings together all aspects of an individual's health and provides recommendations and resources to help them maintain their wellness, Fey said.

Although the Sam's Club offering does not include access to a physician and will not pay for direct health care services, consumer groups warn that The Prevention Plan could nonetheless be confusing for some who might mistake it for health insurance.

Health care's brave new world

Introduction of The Prevention Plan offers a glimpse into how retailers are likely looking to capitalize on a public that is increasingly aware of its health care needs. In the wake of last year's health reform legislation, the talk around the water cooler can often shift from the weekend game to the cost of health insurance premiums, quality of care and affordable health plans.

In addition, the health care community has continued to beat the drum of prevention. Several studies have found that increasing medical coverage for wellness programs and preventive care can actually decrease overall health care costs.

Employers have gotten on board as well as juggle an upcoming federal mandate for employee coverage with the ballooning cost of their group insurance premiums. Fitness challenges and healthy living seminars are making a regular appearance in many offices, and Wal-Mart undoubtedly hopes that small businesses will turn to the Prevention Plan as a turn-key approach to promoting healthy habits for employees.

In the future, when health insurance exchanges break medical coverage down into standardized tiers, you may find that picking up a health plan will be as simple as running out for a carton of milk.

Tags : wellness programs, health insurance alternatives

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