NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said on Tuesday that it will contract with local hospitals and other organizations to open as many as 400 in-store health clinics in the next two to three years.
Should current market forces continue, the world’s largest retailer said up to 2,000 clinics could be in Wal-Mart stores over the next five to seven years.
Wal-Mart said the effort marks an expansion of a pilot program it started in 2005, when it leased space within its stores to medical clinics. Currently, it said 76 clinics are operating inside Wal-Mart stores in 12 states.
It has said the clinics are expected to boost the health of its shoppers and should also help sales by drawing consumers into its stores.
“We think the clinics will be a great opportunity for our business. But most importantly, they are going to provide something our customers and communities desperately need -- affordable access at the local level to quality health care,” said Wal-Mart Chief Executive Officer Lee Scott in a statement.
Wal-Mart has endured criticism over the years from labor unions that say it pays inadequate wages and pushes employees onto government aid programs.
The company has tried to counter such attacks, taking steps like selling generic drugs for $4 per prescription, and joining with the 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union, one of its most vocal labor foes, to call for universal health-care coverage for all Americans by 2012.
The retailer said on Tuesday that $4 prescriptions now account for more than 35 percent of all prescriptions filled at Wal-Mart, and nearly 30 percent of the $4 prescriptions are filled without insurance.
Wal-Mart said the health clinics, which will lease space in its stores, will be managed by local or regional hospitals and/or other organizations that are independent of Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart is not alone in pursuing these clinics. Drug store operators like CVS/Caremark Corp. and Walgreen Co are also putting clinics in their stores, hoping to attract Americans looking for less expensive treatment options amid soaring health-care costs.
Wal-Mart shares fell 1 percent to $48.45 in afternoon New York Stock Exchange trading.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.