Sam’s Club edging into health insurance market

Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club unit and a UnitedHealth subsidiary will offer a discount program that covers a variety of health-care related services including dental, laser eye surgery, chiropractic care, acupuncture, weight loss, and fitness club membership.

Sam’s Club members pay $9 per month to access the program, which relies on aggregating customers to get discounts from providers. This program isn’t especially significant or innovative by itself, but I like the idea of a very consumer oriented company getting into the space.

Americans are terrifically savvy consumers of all kinds of goods and services. We recognize value and quality and punish retailers and suppliers that don’t deliver. But the healthcare system is structured in a way that doesn’t allow consumers to apply their shopping smarts. It’s time for that to change.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and physician report cards are baby steps in that direction. Let’s hope retailers like Sam’s Club can accelerate the process.

March 11, 2005

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