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Walmart to test programs for U.S. workers to cut its healthcare costs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Walmart Inc (WMT.N) said on Thursday it will begin several healthcare pilot programs for its U.S. employees starting Jan. 1 as it looks for ways to cut healthcare costs – one of the largest expenses for the retailer after wages.

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

Walmart will pilot a program that will connect patients with local doctors in an effort to cut down on its workers relying on word of mouth or social media to find a doctor. The pilot programs will be held in parts of Arkansas, Florida and Texas.

The company is the largest U.S. private-sector employer with a 1.4 million workforce.

In North Carolina and South Carolina, the company will test a concierge service to address issues with billing, fix appointments, understand a diagnosis and find a provider.

In Colorado, Wisconsin and Minnesota, Walmart will expand a program that allows patients to video chat with a doctor from home for $4 per chat.

The retailer will also offer workers access to fitness clubs for $9 per bi-weekly pay period and add a predictable co-pay of $35 for every visit to a primary care physician under its most popular medical plan. These services will be available nationwide.

In addition to healthcare services for employees, the company is also beefing up its presence in the fast-growing health and wellness market in the country.

Recently, Walmart said it is expanding an education program it began last year by offering healthcare degrees, aimed at filling critical roles at its more than 5,000 retail pharmacies.

Last year, the retailer signed a deal with Anthem Inc (ANTM.N), 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.

Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington

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