As behavioral health providers know all too well, accessing mental health services such as counseling can be expensive, inconvenient and difficult for patients.
Walmart (NYSE: WMT) is making moves to remove those roadblocks to care at its Walmart Health centers, where patients can speak with a counselor for $1 a minute, according to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek feature.
It’s all part of the multinational retail giant’s ambitious plans to tap into the nation’s $3.6 trillion health care spending market and expand its services through Walmart Health centers, which are standalone health clinics connected to select Walmart stores.
The first Walmart Health location opened at a supercenter store just outside of Atlanta in Dallas, Georgia, last September. The second center opened in January in Calhoun, Georgia, which is about an hour north of the first location. The company also has plans to open another Georgia Walmart Health center this summer in the Atlanta suburb of Loganville.
The locations offer shoppers various medical and dental services along with behavioral health services for individuals ages 6 and up.
Unlike most health care billing, where patients only discover the cost of services after they are rendered, the prices of services are listed upfront on billboards at Walmart Health centers.
Walmart has not yet announced how many health centers it plans to open in total, but it has been clear on its goal: to make health care — including for behavioral health — affordable and convenient for shoppers who might otherwise have trouble accessing care.
Although the cost of mental health counseling varies depending on where it’s offered, it remains an impediment to getting help, as roughly half of the 20% of Americans diagnosed with a mental illness are without treatment.
But at the Walmart Health centers, for just $1 a minute, shoppers can drop by anytime — no appointment necessary — to talk to a counselor about various mild-to-moderate concerns focusing on anxiety, depression, grief and relationship issues. That’s especially important for Walmart shoppers, many of whom have lower incomes and live in rural, remote locations where health care resources can be scarce.
To dispense behavioral health services, Walmart has partnered with Beacon Care Services, a subsidiary of Boston-based behavioral health provider Beacon Health Options. Behavioral Health Business recently connected with Beacon to learn more about the partnership.
Sherry Dubester, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Beacon, says the model’s strength lies not only in its affordability, but also in its collaborative nature.
“What makes the model especially exciting is that, while patients can be scheduled formally, we’re also set up for active coordination with primary care,” Dubester previously told BHB. “If they’re treating somebody and it’s clear there’s active depression or other issues, [doctors] are able to coordinate literally on the spot with behavioral health.”