retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Washington Post reports this morning in a page one story that Walmart, “once vilified for its stingy health benefits … has become an unlikely leader in the effort to provide affordable care without bankrupting employers, their workers or taxpayers in the process. From its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., the retailer is doing in the real world what many in Washington are only beginning to talk about.

“At a time when other firms are scaling back or eliminating health coverage, Wal-Mart has made a serious dent in the problem of the uninsured. New figures being released today show that 5.5 percent of its employees now lack health insurance, compared with a nationwide rate of 18 percent. The company has also put into practice many of the innovations that experts say will lead to higher-quality, more efficient care. Using its high-tech marketing savvy, Wal-Mart has introduced digital records, partnered with prestigious organizations such as the Mayo Clinic, and begun targeting costly health problems such as obesity and premature births.”

According to the story, while Walmart’s approach isn’t as extensive as some of the solutions being considered by the Obama administration, the company has been emphasizing both prevention and employee choice in developing a new health care model. There’s no question that many of its innovations were driven by bottom line considerations – its poor image in the health care area as hurting sales and driving down its stock price.

KC's View:
I keep thinking that retired Walmart CEO Lee Scott eventually is going to get a job in the Obama administration. (Maybe as Secretary of Commerce? That seems to be a job that Obama is having trouble filling…)

On so many levels, bringing Scott into the administration would irritate so many people who are in the Democratic base. But that may be the best reason to draft him…because on so many levels, that’s a voice that ought to be at the table.