Human Capital & Careers

Want Preventive Care? Join the Club

It's not bona fide health insurance, but Sam's Club's new preventive-care plan for members could enable smaller companies to offer a useful benefit...
David McCannJanuary 19, 2011

Small businesses that don’t provide health insurance for employees may be able to help them stay healthy anyway — by telling them to join Sam’s Club.

This month the members-only retailer launched its new Prevention Plan, a personalized online health-management program. Available only to Sam’s Club’s members for $99 per year, the program provides an online health assessment based on answers to questions about existing medical conditions, family history, and lifestyle, as well as a blood test that can be self-administered at home. That information is combined and compared with known risk factors and risk profiles to produce a report and a game plan for the member.

Plan participants also receive two health-coaching sessions and access to more than 20 online education programs to help achieve goals such as losing weight, quitting smoking, controlling diabetes, and lowering blood pressure. There is also a 24/7 nurse phone line.

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“This does not replace seeing a doctor,” cautions Christopher Fey, CEO of U.S. Preventive Medicine, a
health-care provider that is partnering with Sam’s Club to offer the program. “But people only visit their doctor once or twice a year. You can’t really attack a risk factor that way.”

Sam’s Club has already been offering free on-site health screenings for its members on a quarterly basis; this year they will be available monthly. But those screenings are much less thorough than the Prevention Plan’s evaluation. “The difference is night and day,” says Jason Reiser, Sam’s Club’s merchandising vice president for health and family care.

The plan makes sense for many small businesses, says Patricia Curran, principal of the national clinical practice at Buck Consultants. Reiser notes that small businesses could either buy the Prevention Plan for their employees at a tiny fraction of what health insurance would cost or simply encourage workers to purchase it themselves.

Reiser says offering such an inexpensive health-care program is the right thing to do for Sam’s Club’s 47 million members, a large number of whom are small-business owners and employees. But it’s clear that bottom-line motivations are also at work, such as drawing in new members and retaining existing ones in the face of competition from Costco and other membership-based retail chains.

“It by no means replaces health insurance,” says Reiser. “But we want to differentiate ourselves as a retailer, and our customers have told us over and over again that they are looking for health-care solutions.”

Curran says that while such retailers as Walgreen, CVS, and Target also offer some health-care services, Sam’s Club is going further down the road of preventive as opposed to reactive medicine. “For a big-box store, [the plan is] pretty innovative,” she says.