Walmart joins health care payment improvement initiative


LITTLE ROCK — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will contribute $670,000 to the state’s effort to lower the costs and improve the quality of health care, Gov. Mike Beebe and Walmart officials announced Thursday.

The Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative, currently in its first phase of implementation, seeks to move the state from a fee-for-service model to one in which Medicaid and insurance companies pay health care providers for episodes of care and reward them for providing high-quality care at appropriate costs.

It is the first program of its kind to be developed on a statewide level in the U.S.

In a news conference at the Capitol, Beebe said the initiative is a partnership between the government and the private sector, “and I don’t know that we’ve got a bigger, better example of the private sector than a little company they started up there in Bentonville called Walmart, that has some degree of influence not just in Arkansas and not just in the other 49 states but globally.”

The governor said Walmart’s participation in the program is important because “they represent that whole … segment of payers that heretofore have not been included, and that’s self-insurers.”

Sally Welborn, Walmart’s senior vice president of benefits, said the money will help pay for materials to explain to patients how the program works, a statewide tracking system to measure the effectiveness of the program and creation of the APII Employer Advisory Council, on which Walmart will be represented.

“The promise to deliver … better-quality care, more transparency, and to reform the way that we pay or our providers is directly related and directly aligned with Walmart’s approach,” Welborn said. “Our focus is on saving people money so that they can live better, and that’s exactly what this is doing. We believe that if we can apply that mindset — of saving people money so they can live better — to the health care system, then we can all come out ahead.”

Welborn said more than 1 million people are on Walmart health insurance plans, 58,000 of them in Arkansas.

“Rising health care costs continue to be a challenge for Walmart as well as all other employers, so we think that we need to do some revolutionary things,” she said. “At Walmart we’ve done a lot of revolutionary things in retail, and this is one of our first steps in the health care space that will be revolutionary also. This effort that (state Surgeon General Dr. Joe) Thompson and the governor have supported is revolutionary in its own right and will spark the modernization of our health care system, we believe.”

Thompson thanked Walmart for joining insurers Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and QualChoice and the state Medicaid program as major partners in the initiative. He said that as the state transitions to the new system, it is important for large, self-insured companies like Walmart to “come to the table to actually help bring their muscle to help transform the system.”

To date, the initiative has been implemented by Medicaid in five diagnostic areas and is being implemented in those same areas by Blue Cross and Blue Shield and QualChoice. Those areas are readmission for congestive heart failure; hip and knee replacements; upper respiratory infections; attention deficit disorder; and pregnancy care.

Another five areas are expected to be added in the spring and another five in the fall.