American Health Care: Curbing Costs and Increasing Access

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that, facing increasing health care costs and higher insurance company  premiums, Americans are patronizing more affordable and convenient retail clinics.  At the same time, Drug Store News disclosed a 36% rise in visits to MinuteClinics last year.

Quick-Care Clinics
The first CVS owned MinuteClinic opened in the Twin Cities in 2000 and now number 560 units in 25 states.  Service is on a walk-in, non-appointment basis, and is administered by family nurse practitioners and physician assistants.  The staff is trained to diagnose and treat common illnesses, minor injuries, and skin conditions deliver health screenings and vaccinations.

Mass Market Retailers Offering Medical Care
Retailers such as Target, Walmart, and ShopKo have joined the express-clinic trend with in-store facilities.  Walmart has gone the route of partnering with local hospitals and leasing out space to medical clinic companies such as Saltanic, which has doctors on staff and offers a wider range of services including x-rays.

Target has taken a slower, more experimental approach after closing the MinuteClinics it had opened in a limited number of stores. This year, the Minneapolis-based retailer undertook the greatest expansion in in-store clinics since 2007, opening eight new Target Clinics – five in Chicago and three in Palm Beach, FL.  Previously the company had operated 28 clinics in just two states: Minnesota and Maryland.

Risks and benefits
Many in the American health care industry worry that offering medicine on a retail basis will result in the commoditization of health care.  However, the upside may be worth the risk.  The reality is that increasing competition by adding another channel of distribution may provide convenience and access to more people.  And that is what is currently missing from health care delivery in America, namely the typical convenience of other services that are subject to free-market forces.

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