Walmart’s Sam’s Club announced a pilot program Thursday in partnership with Seattle-based telehealth startup 98point6 and health-care company Humana to offer affordable health-care services to its members.
Early next month, Sam’s club members in Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina can buy one of four bundles ranging from $50 to $240 annually to access primary care, alternative medicine, optical, and dental services for up to six family members. The program later may expand to members in other states, according to a Sam’s Club news release.
The discount health program called Sam’s Club Care Accelerator Together with Humana includes — among other offers — free prescriptions for some medications; prepaid health debit cards ranging from $5 to $100, depending on the bundle; savings on dental services; and $1 virtual clinic visits through the text-based app 98point6. Sam’s Club stressed that the program is not in lieu of a health-care plan.
“We are lowering the barrier for people to take care of themselves,” said Lori Flees, senior vice president of Sam’s Club Health and Wellness. Sam’s Club estimates the Club Care Accelerator program will save members $400 to $1100 annually.
The announcement comes as rising health-care costs and a growing physician shortage in the United States have created what some medical experts call a primary-care crisis. The average amount families pay for health insurance has increased 22% since 2014, outpacing inflation or workers’ wages, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey.
Robbie Cape, 98point6’s CEO and co-founder, said the startup’s first partnership with a retail company will help address the issue, given “Walmart’s massive scale, unmatched physical footprint, strong customer loyalty and target demographic.”
Founded in 2015 by medical-industry experts, 98point6 connects its customers to one of 44 board-certified physicians nationwide who offer diagnoses, treatment plans or prescriptions through a mobile platform powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
Once a patient starts the virtual clinic visit by launching the app, an automated assistant requests the symptoms and pictures of the ailment before connecting the user with a live physician.
Cape said AI technology conducts more than 60% of the medical interview, streamlining the administrative process so clients can connect with physicians in less than 30 seconds after they’ve received the medical information.
The software is improved after each visit through machine learning, a method that finds patterns in a large amount of data, enabling the machine to better ask qualifying questions and cater to an individual patient.
“The majority of us have technology literally at our fingertips, making the lack of change in our primary care system all the more frustrating,” Cape said. “Ultimately we will enable physicians to focus their time doing what they love to do most, which is diagnosing and treating patients.”
AP contributed to this report.