By Arriana McLymore
(Reuters) -Walmart and healthcare giant UnitedHealth Group are planning to team up to provide preventive care for people aged 65 and up, and virtual healthcare services for all age groups, the companies said on Wednesday.
The 10-year partnership represents Walmart's latest push into healthcare and could help the retail giant better compete with CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance.
Walmart's clinics could get a boost of new customers from UnitedHealth's Medicare Advantage members, while UnitedHealth gains access to the largest U.S. retailer's footprint and a venue to enroll more people, Evercore ISI analysts Mike Newshel and Elizabeth Anderson said in a research note.
Walgreens last October invested $5.2 billion in primary-care provider VillageMD, which has more than 200 locations across 15 markets.
Walmart's effort with UnitedHealth will target common ailments among aging Americans such as heart disease and diabetes.
When it gets under way in January, the collaboration is expected to initially offer seniors healthcare at 15 Walmart Health locations in Georgia and Florida. The focus will be on value-based healthcare, a model in which hospitals and doctors' offices are reimbursed for the care they provide through multiple Medicare Advantage plans.
Medicare Advantage plans are run by private insurers and are an alternative to original Medicare, the federal government's health insurance plan for seniors.
The collaboration will initially exclude coverage for members under the original Medicare.
Unlike traditional fee-for-service models, in which health insurers pay doctors a fee for each service provided, value-based health-care payments are tied to measures of a patient's health. The model typically includes dietary guides, cancer screenings and frequent doctor visits.
"We expect that through this partnership, we would grow to serve hundreds of thousands of seniors," Dan Schumacher, UnitedHealth Group chief strategy and growth officer, said.
"Our goal is to make (healthcare) accessible and keep it affordable using these solutions, particularly in these medically underserved communities," Dr. Cheryl Pegus, executive vice president of Health and Wellness at Walmart, said.
Walmart already provides physicians, community-health workers, behavioral-health therapists and nurse practitioners to help serve seniors who are "already going to buy other products" at Walmart's health facilities, she said.
Walmart's healthcare personnel will be able to use Optum, a health services company owned by UnitedHealth Group, which gives providers data analytics on patients. The collaboration also includes the expected launch of a Walmart and UnitedHealth Group co-branded Medicare Advantage plan in Georgia.
Walmart and UnitedHealth Group had partnered in January to provide free, at-home COVID-19 tests.
(Reporting by Arriana McLymore in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler, Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)