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Walmart expands $1 a day education program to deepen push in healthcare

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Walmart Inc is expanding an education program it began last year by offering healthcare degrees for $1 a day, its latest push to beef up its presence in the fast-growing health and wellness market in the United States.

FILE PHOTO: A worker walks past the pharmacy in a new Walmart Express store in Chicago July 26, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress

Walmart will offer seven bachelor’s degrees and two diplomas in fields such as health science and healthcare management through a program that already offers degrees in the fields of business, supply chain management, computer science and cyber security, the company said.

The new offerings will help the retailer train staff to fill critical healthcare roles across its stores, which include more than 5,000 retail pharmacies as well as vision and hearing centers, it said.

Medical services, which typically have higher margins than retail products on shelves, allow Walmart to not only tap into the healthcare needs of senior citizens and low income shoppers but also boost its retail business by getting customers visiting its pharmacies to pick up additional items along the way.

Last year, Walmart signed a deal with Anthem, one of the country’s largest insurers, to attract more Medicare enrollees to buy over-the-counter medicines and supplies at its stores.

This month, it opened a facility in Georgia to offer low-priced health services that include dental, x-rays, and mental health counseling.

Walmart also runs one of the largest pharmacy chains in the country and has been aggressive in offering low priced generic drugs and prescriptions.

Health and wellness products have accounted for 11% of its merchandise sales in recent years, according to analysts. The company does not separately break out such data.

Walmart’s move is also tied to U.S. retailers struggling to hire and retain talent, especially young workers, with unemployment at its lowest in nearly half a century.

A year after the launch of Walmart’s education program, more than 13,000 Walmart workers have been accepted to at least one of the courses and over 100,000 employees have expressed an interest in joining, the retailer said.

Walmart is the largest U.S. private sector employer, with a nearly 1.5 million workforce.

Reporting by Nandita Bose, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

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