Thursday, February 07, 2008

Welcome to Wal Mart, May I Take Your Pulse?

I suppose I shouldn't be upset that Wal Mart is actually trying to do something about the healthcare crisis in America. At least they are trying. They are certainly doing better than the bozos in Washington on the issue. So why do I find it onerous?

First of all it's the fact that it's Wal Mart. The idea going to the temple of cheap to get healthcare is revolting. Now, I know that they are only doing the same sort of thing Sears did back in the day--providing all sorts of services to go along with their retail business. Once upon a time Sears would come into a town and open a store that had an eye doctor, an insurance agent, a photo studio, sometimes even a dentist. It was a public service providing low cost services to areas that were underserved, and it was good business, getting more people into the stores for a longer period of time. It was even a minor profit center. Along the way it founded Allstate insurance (still the company I use) and Discoverdard, as well as Craftsman tools and DieHard Batteries. Eventualy they bought Coldwell Banker realty and and Dean Witter, and all of these business operated inside Sears stores. Walmart is just trying to be the same one-stop shopping sort of place. But it's Wal Mart--specter of evil, the destroyer of small towns, the Godzilla that comes in and stomps mom and pop businesses underfoot. How can they be credited with actually doing something good? For Wal Mart this is good business too. They get more people in their stores and they mute criticism from unions that they skimp on worker healthcare. I mean, if a worker can get healthcare right at work, how skimpy can it be?

Of course it is just a bandaid. There are lots of free and low-costs clinics in America (Wal Mart is mostly co-branding with existing hospitals). The big problem with this is that it does little for preventative care and nothing for major care, which is where people loose their houses because they can't pay for an operation.

And sears is talking about once again breaking up into smaller companies in order to shed is loss leaders and become less bloated. Eventually Wal Mart will become too big as well.

Perhaps my problem is that it's not the solution *I* believe in. I support universal single-payer helathcare. But then that doesn't fly in the US because somebody immediately starts yelling "socialism." Forget the fact that people live longer in industrialized countries with universal care (according to the CIA World Factbook, the United States ranks 45th in the world in life expectancy. Number 1 is Andora). Wal Mart getting into the healthcare business is not a solution it is a symptom of the problem.


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