Episode #48 – Walmart’s consumer oriented healthcare transformation with Marcus Osborne

It’s become increasingly apparent that large employers are rapidly becoming the most disruptive force in American healthcare today. Think Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan Chase, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Comcast, CVS Health, Walgreens, Walmart, and so on…

The reasons are readily apparent:

  • Employers are feeling the most pain due to the unsustainable and rising costs of healthcare, the paucity of pricing transparency, and the lack of consumer-oriented service.
  • Employers are footing over a third of the American healthcare bill, with the knowledge that at least one-third of their spend on healthcare is not leading to improvements in the health of their employees.
  • Unlike other stakeholders in the healthcare market, employers are less encumbered by political bureaucracy, conflicting incentives, and legacy systems.
  • They have tremendous capital and scale, as well as cutting-edge, consumer-oriented technologic capabilities to bring to bear.

This episode is as much about healthcare consumerism as it is about employee health – tying in nicely to this season’s earlier podcast episodes with Dr. Robert Pearl, Kevan Mabbutt and Dr. Harold Paz.

Our guest this week – Marcus Osborne, a Harvard Business School alum – is the VP of Health & Wellness Transformation at Walmart. He has years of experience in Walmart’s previous healthcare delivery initiatives – their clinics, pharmaceutical products & pricing, and collaborative efforts with Humana around Medicare part D.

Marcus is a no-nonsense, results-oriented, highly accomplished businessman who is on a mission to build a new and better healthcare system. He makes it abundantly clear why this is critical to Walmart as an employer, and as a retailer serving over 85% of the American public. He does not believe the current healthcare system can be fixed. He does believe that Walmart’s credo to deliver affordable products & services, its capabilities, its size and reach, make it well positioned to create a new healthcare system.

This episode will include:

  • Marcus’ explanation of why Walmart is formulating a strategic decision to enter the healthcare market.
  • How Walmart is optimally situated to become one of, if not, the most significant disruptor in the American healthcare delivery market.
  • Marcus’ scathing critique of how people are treated in our healthcare system; in juxtaposition to Walmart’s “customer-only” approach to serving the American public.
  • Marcus’ high-level view of what a transformed, consumer-oriented healthcare system might look like.
  • Discussion about a specific initiative Walmart has been deploying with its over 1 million associates, which is literally reducing its employee healthcare costs by over a billion dollars per year.

While some may find Marcus’ responses a bit in-your-face, I actually found his honesty & directness to be refreshing. At times during the interview, I did find myself feeling defensive – in large part because I am privileged to witness daily the amazing life-saving and life-enhancing work accomplished within the current healthcare system – by bright, passionate and intensely committed individuals, teams and organizations. However, I also found myself aligned with Marcus’ strategic assessment and in complete agreement with his consumer-centric thinking.

During the course of our conversation, it became clear to me that some of the most innovative and disruptive changes coming to healthcare may not be technologic. The understanding I’ve arrived at, after dozens of conversations like this one, is that our primary purpose might not be to digitize healthcare, but instead, to humanize it.