By Daniel R. Matlis

No, it is not a typo.  If you are uninsured, that $4 prescription will probably cost you $1,053.

Why so much you ask?

It’s pretty straight forward. Uninsured people often wait until they are much sicker than the insured to seek medical care. This medical care is typically in the form of an Emergency Room visit, and according to Blue Cross Blue Shield, the average Emergency room visit costs $1,049.

So why should you care, you have health insurance.

According to CNN:

  • 41% of Middle Class Americans had no insurance for part of 2005 (up 28% in 4 years)
  • 46 million Americans have no health insurance
  • Healthcare costs are the number one reason Americans file for bankruptcy
  • 92% of Healthcare Dollars in the US are spent after a person gets sick

In today’s environment, it does not take much for any one of us to become one of them.

Wal-Mart to the Rescue?

By now you have no doubt heard that Wal-Mart has completed the rollout of its $4 prescription program to all of its 3,810 pharmacies across the US.  What has not made big news is that Wal-Mart launched a pilot in-store health clinic program in the Northwest Arkansas region. In the first six months of the program, three clinics had treated 4,300 patients, nearly half them were uninsured.

Wal-Mart’s CEO Lee Scott said: “Wal-Mart is stepping up with solutions to the health care challenges facing America’s working families. We’re using our business strengths to make health care more affordable and accessible for our customers and our communities.”

I recently had the chance to speak with Kevin Gardner, spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., to get a better understanding of his companies “in-store health clinic” program. Gardner commented that Wal-Mart is on track to open 60 in-store health clinics be the end of January 2007.  Due to regulatory requirements, Wal-Mart does not run the clinics directly, but rather rents the space to third party clinics. During the pilot phase, Wal-Mart is testing a number of clinic models, including some staffed by Physicians and others staffed by Nurse practitioners.

The clinic charges a flat rate, averaging $45 per visit, and treats most common health ailments. If your condition warrants it, the clinic’s staff will write you a prescription, which Wal-Mart hopes you will fill at their pharmacy.

The trend is catching on with retailers and drug store chains like CVS, Target, Rite Aid and Walgreen offering similar services.

Will in-store health clinics single handedly solve the healthcare crisis in America? I don’t know, but I would pay $49 for a $4 prescription over $1,053 any day.