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Friday, December 7, 2018

Save Money, Get Better: Walmart Now Offers Mental Health Services

A pilot clinic in Texas could be the start of something big.

Walmart is a one-stop shop for millions of Americans nationwide. And now, in addition to offering “everyday low prices” on groceries, home essentials, and clothing, the store is experimenting with providing a new service to its customers that gives new meaning to the term “retail therapy.”

Visit any Walmart around the country, and you’ll notice that the front of the store is filled with a variety of services including salons, fast food restaurants, optometrists, banks, and even tax services like H&R Block. But when shoppers in Carrollton, Texas, walked into their local Walmart a few weeks ago, they were met with a new addition to their neighborhood store: a mental health clinic.

Retail Therapy: The Market Provides

Beacon Health Options (Beacon)—a private, Boston-based behavior health service company—recently joined forces with Walmart to make mental health care more accessible, specifically in rural areas.

The new clinic provides outpatient care and promises to meet “every individual’s unique needs, including common mental health issues.”

Over the last several years, demand for mental health care has risen while access has remained stagnant. Beacon has made it its mission to address the shortage of quality mental health care by offering services in convenient locations that are more conducive to the everyday lives of consumers. Opening a clinic in Walmart is the company’s first experiment in “retail therapy.”

The new clinic provides outpatient care to consumers and promises to meet “every individual’s unique needs, including common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress, grief and relationship issues.” This promise is executed by offering consumers sessions with licensed psychologists who will focus primarily on therapy, rather than diagnosing patients and doling out prescriptions.

According to Russell C. Petrella, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of Beacon Health Options:

This initiative combines our company’s behavioral health expertise with our longstanding dedication to making quality care more accessible. We chose a retail setting for the first practice because it offers the convenience of a local neighborhood location that is close by and easy to get to, and our evening hours accommodate our patients’ schedules. Our online appointment scheduling system makes it easy for people to plan their visits ahead of time to fit into their busy lifestyles.

Choosing Carrollton, Texas, for its premiere location was no accident. The city is a suburb of the Dallas/Fort Worth area making its location convenient for many shoppers. Eventually, the plan is to open additional clinics in more rural parts of the country, where mental health care faces two major obstacles.

First, access to care is limited, since patients have to travel long distances to meet with a therapist. Already, the obstacle of distance prevents many from receiving routine medical care. But this problem is amplified when it comes to mental health, the importance of which is often downplayed in these rural areas.

There is also a great deal of stigma surrounding mental health in general. This is exacerbated when you live in areas where seeking treatment is uncommon. And without an explicit demand for mental health care, there hasn’t been a whole lot of incentive for mental health professionals to relocate and set up shop in these areas. As Dr. Jerry Halverson, chief medical officer for Rogers Behavioral Health in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, commented:

Historically, the demand [for treatment] has not been as strong due to higher levels of stigma and lower rates of treatment being sought.

But this doesn’t mean that the demand isn’t there; it has simply not yet manifested itself fully. But given the rise in mental health issues, it is clear that these services are needed. And if Walmart’s experiment goes well, this could be the start of something big. And Beacon is already eyeing additional locations for future clinics.

Since the clinic opened less than three weeks ago, over 500 prospective patients have come in to talk with representatives and learn more. Interested consumers can expect to pay $140 for the first appointment with additional visits costing $110. This cost is drastically lower than other therapy services available in the marketplace, where an uninsured person can sometimes pay upwards of $200 per visit. For consumers who are experiencing extenuating circumstances, Beacon also offers a sliding fee scale to help make these services accessible to everyone.

A Dearth of Doctors in Mental Health

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five Americans is struggling with some sort of mental health issue. Unfortunately, given all the regulatory hoops involved in the field, the market has been unable to keep up with demand. The Health Resources and Services Administration even estimates that the country is 250,000 providers short of the demand projected for 2025. And according to a report published by the Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives:

The shortage of psychiatrists is an escalating crisis … of more severity than shortages faced in virtually any other specialty.

Texas is leading this national shortage of mental health professionals, which is another reason Carrollton was selected for the first clinic. Carrollton is in an area that houses around 10 million people. According to Beacon, only 35 percent of the region’s mental health needs are being fulfilled, leaving much to be desired.

When a local news outlet asked its viewers what they thought of Walmart’s new venture, one customer commented that their only real concern was that this was coming from a private company, rather than a government entity.

Yet, government intrusion in the health care sector has done more harm than good. Regulatory burdens have prevented new products and cures from coming to market, price fixing has removed competition in the pharmaceutical industry, and the more Congress tries to regulate health care, the more Americans suffer. Luckily, Walmart is proving that, as health care consumers, we have more options.

Walmart Is Seriously Investing in Their Customers’ Health

When it comes to improving general health care, Walmart is just getting started. The company announced that it is going to make cutting health care costs a priority. Putting this plan into action, the company recently hired former Humana executive Sean Slovensk to head up its health and wellness division.

Thanks to Walmart, more people now have an opportunity to heal and live healthy, prosperous lives.

Slovensk said, “Because of its strategic importance, we’ve decided to put more focus on our Health & Wellness business in the near term.”

The company recently partnered with Anthem, one of the largest insurance providers in the country, to offer discounts on medical equipment and over-the-counter drugs to Medicare patients. And all this is being done without government compulsion.

It’s odd that so many people, progressives especially, demonize Walmart when the retailer is making a better quality of life affordable for a wider range of people.

So ignore the bureaucrats and the naysayers who insist that without government, we have no means of solving America’s health care problems. Thanks to Walmart, more people now have an opportunity to heal and live healthy, prosperous lives.

  • Brittany is a writer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. She is a co-host of “The Way The World Works,” a Tuttle Twins podcast for families.