March 13, 2019
By Elizabeth Walker, Walmart Corporate Affairs
It’s no secret healthcare costs are going up. Employer spending on health care services rose by 44% per enrollee from 2007 to 2016, reaching nearly $700 billion annually in 2017. Meanwhile, employers still want to offer the best possible coverage in an effort to attract top talent. So what’s the solution?
One answer can be found in the new Harvard Business Review piece “How Employers are Fixing Health Care,” which is co-authored by Lisa Woods, a senior director in Walmart’s benefits department. The article focuses on Walmart’s Centers of Excellence program, a way to provide employees with superior care while controlling health care costs by taking the lifecycle costs into account. The program connects patients with national experts for conditions such as heart and spine surgeries, knee and hip replacements and certain cancer diagnoses. By doing so, patients can get second opinions, helping avoid a misdiagnosis.
One surprising fact: of the 2,300 Walmart associates referred to the COE for spine surgery, over half didn’t need surgery and found more effective, more appropriate and less expensive treatments.
If surgery is deemed necessary, choosing to undergo it at a COE designated health system can have big benefits for patients because they are getting such high-quality care. COE patients had shorter hospital stays and lower readmission rates. They were also able to return to work sooner, which is better for both the patient and the company. The program also bundles payments for all the costs of certain procedures (for example, a knee replacement), bypassing insurers and working directly with the health systems.
“From the start Walmart, like the providers it partners with, has explicitly pursued health care value — lowered costs coupled with better outcomes,” Woods said in the article. “It would do little good to secure bargain-priced care if that didn’t help people resume their lives and return to work.”
Simply put, it is not enough to just save money on healthcare costs. Walmart is also focused on helping associates live better, fuller lives by connecting them with excellent care.