Wal-Mart expands insurance education efforts for customers

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Arkansas-based discount retailer and world's largest private employer, is launching an in-store program to help customers navigate the health insurance maze, the company announced today.  Wal-Mart is partnering with DirectHealth.com to set up counters in 2,700 stores where customers can speak to licensed insurance agents about product choices.

The new program, called Healthcare Begins Here, is an extension of efforts Wal-Mart began in 2005 when it brought insurance agents into stores to answer questions and enroll customers in various health plans, according to the announcement. The partnership with DirectHealth.com, an online insurance comparison site and independent health insurance agency, "takes this offering to the next level in response to customers who wanted more options to choose from." 

"For years, our customers have told us that there is too much complexity when it comes to understanding their health insurance options," said Labeed Diab, president of health and wellness for Wal-Mart, U.S., in the announcement. "Healthcare Begins Here addresses that complexity by bringing clarity and increased choice to the insurance enrollment process through DirectHealth.com."  

Diab's comments echo the news that many Americans don't understand fundamental insurance concepts, and people with low health literacy are more apt to use costly emergency department services, as FierceHealthPayer reported.

"Our goal is to be the number one healthcare provider in the industry," Diab also told The Washington Post. As part of this foray into healthcare, Wal-Mart began running primary care centers at several locations this year. Many Wal-Mart stores nationwide offer basic health services such as flu shots and blood pressure checks at in-store clinics, which support the corporate goal of convincing customers that Wal-Mart can be their go-to store for one-stop shopping, The Post reported.

HealthCare Begins Here will debut on Oct. 10 and run through Dec. 7, aligning closely with Medicare open enrollment and overlapping with the second open enrollment period for the federal health insurance exchanges.      

For more:
- read the Wal-Mart announcement
- here's The Washington Post article

Feds, payers and states brace for ACA open enrollment
Insurers: Don't ignore the lack of health literacy
Insurers work to improve health literacy
Insurance jargon still confuses consumers
EOBs don't help consumers understand coverage
Independence Blue Cross educates last-minute exchange shoppers
Seeing the connection between health insurance literacy and fraud