Walmart drops 30,000 part-timers from insurance roles and adds new in-store insurance shop

October 7, 2014

One day after announcing that customers will now be able to shop and sign up for health insurance including Medicaid in its stores, retail giant Walmart announced that it was cutting part-time health benefits to about 30,000 workers.

Courtesy of Walmart.

(UPDATED Oct. 8, 2014) One day after announcing that customers will now be able to shop and sign up for health insurance including Medicaid in its stores, retail giant Walmart announced that it was cutting part-time health benefits to about 30,000 workers.

As of January 1, it will no longer offer health insurance benefits to employees who work less than 30 hours a week, according to the Associated Press. Sally Welborn, Wal-Mart's senior vice president of benefits, told AP that the company faced rising costs and “had to make some tough decisions.”  

“We are trying to balance the needs of (workers) as well as the cost to Wal-Mart," she told the AP. Walmart is the largest private employer in the U.S., with 1.4 million workers.  

On October 6, Walmart announced that it was partnering with Direct Health to launch Healthcare Begins Here, an in-store program to educate customers about insurance options.

Wellborn said employees would also be able to utilize the service to find new coverage.

Directhealth.comis an aggregator site that provides access to more than 1,700 plans from 12 leading carriers including Aetna, Cigna, Humana, United Healthcare and participating Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.

The company in a press release said stores would be staffed by independent, licensed health insurance agents from DirectHealth.com who can enroll customers in certain health insurance plans.

Agents can also enroll customers into Medicaid during the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15, 2014.

Walmart says the partnership will bring “transparency and simplicity to the changing health insurance market.”

“Walmart has long been known for innovation in health and wellness, and we’ll never stop delivering new products and services to the 140 million people who visit our stores each week,” said Labeed Diab, senior vice president and president, Health & Wellness, Walmart U.S. “For years, our customers have told us that there is too much complexity when it comes to understanding their health insurance options. Healthcare Begins Here addresses that complexity by bringing clarity and increased choice to the insurance enrollment process through DirectHealth.com.”

Some strategists like Don Hall, MPH, see the move as a continutation of a trend to sell healthcare in the retail marketplace in the same way that goods and services are sold. "Essentially, Walmart is trying to establish a private exchange for the individual health insurance market," said Hall, principal of DeltaSigma LLC, a consulting practice specializing in strategic problem solving for managed care organizations.  "This approach challenges the existing independent broker method of selling health insurance to step up its game in service, transparency and cost."

Walmart entered the primary care arena this year, opening eight company-owned clinics since April with four more planned by year’s end.

The new clinics, branded as Walmart Care Clinics, are staffed by nurse practitioners through a partnership with QuadMed and supervised by a non-treating physician.

They break new ground for the chain and go beyond routine wellness visits by offering management of chronic diseases and referrals to specialists.

The clinics are expected to serve large numbers of Walmart employees as well as the public.