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Reforming Delivery
Wal-Mart's Parade of Horribles Comes to Health Care

This month Wal-Mart will unleash a new terror on the world: agents who will help individuals navigate the complex world of U.S. health care to pick the insurance plan that works best for them. According to the Washington Post, the company will work with to put up counters in its stores where licensed agents who will walk customers through different plan options. More:

Wal-Mart first began hosting agents from individual insurers in its stores in 2005. The newly announced offering expands on that, with the agents able to guide customers through thousands of plans from hundreds of carriers. Direct­ agents will receive a commission if they enroll an in-store customer in a health plan. […]

The program, known as Healthcare Begins Here, kicks off Oct. 10 and will run in stores through Dec. 7, closely tracking with the Medicare open-enrollment period and partially overlapping with the open enrollment period for federal health insurance exchanges. The company said it will monitor the success of the program and potentially bring it back next year

U.S. health care is extremely confusing—especially if you are new to the individual market or to health insurance generally, as many of the previously uninsured now signing up under the ACA will be. Would-be entrepreneurs should consider focusing their energies on simplifying the process of getting and using coverage. But in the meantime, well-informed and licensed agents are a key service for stressed consumers who are looking for the best health care deal but running low on the time necessary to research their options.

Wal-Mart’s hope is that the initial help they offer in getting coverage will persuade the newly insured to give the company their ongoing health care business, such as by using the company’s clinics and pharmacies. This too would be good for consumers and for U.S. health care as whole, given that care provided by big box clinics is cheaper than that on offer at hospitals and doctors’ offices. Will the horrors never cease?

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  • Andrew Allison

    Just one question: do the agents’ commissions depend on the amount of the premium? If so, what are the chances of people really getting what they need, as opposed to what’s best for the agent. The history of abuses in selling whole life insurance and annuities, and the churning of accounts by stock brokers suggest otherwise. Help in navigating health, or any other form of insurance should be compensated, but if the compensation depends on the price of the recommended product, abuses will inevitably occur.

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