Over the past couple of weeks, Walmart is demonstrating its growing commitment to and leadership in healthcare and public health. The company’s announcement this week of pulling products that can be used in military-style weapons from its Outdoor Sports/Shooting department is a major move for public health that is something of a watershed that will impact well beyond the company’s inventory and stock price.

This announcement will continue a trend among some thoughtful business leaders, like CEO Edward Stack of Dick’s Sporting Goods, banning gun sales from the retailer’s 125 stores in March 2019, who have begun to listen to the majority of Americans — retail consumers, all — believing in common-sense gun policy regulation. Most Americans, across political party, support the banning of assault weapons in America, a Morning Consult poll found in August 2019 — especially strong among Republican women.

Let’s tick off the latest announcements on the health’care’ side of the Walmart-in-health plotline…

  • Walmart is testing pollinator gardens testing pollinator gardens in stores to expand its green footprint
  • The store launched WalmartHealth.com, its health-focused ecommerce portal
  • The announcement that Walmart would offer a mental health program as part of its consumer healthcare service portfolio
  • Walmart is testing a lactation suite, discussed in a company blog here
  • And, top of the list, the elimination of certain guns and ammunition from the store’s inventory.

The backstory to this major action: company employees assembled a petition with thousands of workers’ signatures, putting pressure from inside the Walmart “family” on the company to take meaningful action regarding gun sales. On 2nd September, a message was published titled, “McMillon to Associates: Our Next Steps in Response to the Tragedies in El Paso and Southaven.”  Here’s what Walmart committed to doing in that note, verbatim:

  • After selling through our current inventory commitments, we will discontinue sales of short-barrel rifle ammunition such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber that, while commonly used in some hunting rifles, can also be used in large capacity clips on military-style weapons;
  • We will sell through and discontinue handgun ammunition; and
  • We will discontinue handgun sales in Alaska, marking our complete exit from handguns.

Furthermore, Walmart will focus on hunting and sport shooting enthusiasts, the notice said, and would ultimately reduce the company’s market share of ammunition from 20% down to as low as 6% of share. The company also asked shoppers to not openly carry firearms in Walmart stores or Sam’s Clubs where “open carry” is legal.

Doug McMillon, Walmart CEO, concluded the letter: “In a complex situation lacking a simple solution, we are trying to take constructive steps to reduce the risk that events like these will happen again. The status quo is unacceptable.”

For its direct-service healthcare portfolio, Walmart announced a mental health pilot program in Dallas, GA, where appointments can be made from this webpage. Clicking on to “behavioral health,” a consumer can then book a first new intake appointment for 60 minutes for $60 cash (insurance plans are also accepted which could lower that cash price). A repeat visit for counseling costs $45 cash.

The cost of Care Clinic visits ranges from $59 to $99 (without insurance) for primary care, urgent care, chronic condition management, physicals and wellness checks, lab tests and immunizations.

In the interest of retail health transparency, this page lists the costs for Lab, Vaccine & Injection Pricing to avoid sticker-shock at the point of payment. For example, a blood sugar test is listed at $4, a Rapid Strep test $20, an STD (Chlamydia/Gonorrhea) test $35, HIV test $95, and shingles shot $165.84.

Finally in late August, a story in Progressive Grocer talked about Walmart planting its first bee pollinator garden in April 2019 in Garner, NC, store, with others located in Oregon, Washington State, and at the company headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.

The program, part of Walmart’s Environmental, Health and Safety Compliance group, is aiming to bolster sustainability, support consumers’ growing interest in gardening and growing fruits and vegetables, and enhance the food chain.

Hospitals and health systems’ trade press is paying attention to Walmart’s growing health care services portfolio. Managed Healthcare Executive noted, “Walmart Launches Digital Healthcare Site.” Drug Topics’ coverage was, “Walmart Tests Health Clinics,” MedPage‘s take was, “Paging Dr. Walmart.”

Health Populi’s Hot Points: An LA Times op-ed wrote on 5th September 2019, Walmart is doing more to combat gun violence than our government.

The Business Roundtable, a collection of large companies, came together in August to craft a new statement of purpose for corporations to promote, “An Economy That Serves All Americans.” 181 CEOs signed the agreement. Historically, corporations put the returns to investor shareholders above all considerations; in the statement of purpose, the CEOs look to be inclusive to serve the interests of employees, consumers, and local residents living in company communities, along with shareholder value.

It feels like Walmart could be re-positioning as an example of this kind of reimagined company. As the largest corporation in the world, #1 on the Fortune 500 list, Walmart has the opportunity to influence beyond its retail segment.

Now, re-read the last sentence from CEO McMillon, which I’ll reiterate: “In a complex situation lacking a simple solution, we are trying to take constructive steps to reduce the risk that events like these will happen again. The status quo is unacceptable.”

The same could be said for health care — a complex situation lacking a simple solution, plagued by high costs and waste, lack of continuity, access challenges, and inequitable social determinants that prevent health citizens from leading their fullest and best lives.

Millions of Americans are at-risk for low quality, high-cost, inaccessible, low-return health care that impacts both the individual health citizen and the public’s health in aggregate.

Connecting the dots across Walmart’s many workflows over the past few weeks paints a picture of a company redoubling and recommitting efforts in health, for its consumers, employees, and communities.

As five years ago I lauded CVS’s commitment to quitting tobacco, I look forward to revisiting this post five years from now in an America that, I pray, will be a more civil, more bulletproof society and healthier citizenry.