December 3, 2020

Insights from the Nava Benefits Advisory Council: Marcus Osborne, SVP Walmart Health

We're fortunate to be guided by the Nava Benefits Advisory Council, a group comprised of healthcare and benefits experts at America's most employee-centric companies who collectively design, influence, deploy, and manage benefit plans for over two million employees and their families. With their knowledge, insights, and perspective, we're able to democratize the benefits playbook of the Fortune 50 so that resource-strapped employers can provide world-class benefits for their employees at a price they can afford.

In this post, we're introducing you to Marcus Osborne, SVP Walmart Health at Walmart, who discusses some of the biggest challenges facing the healthcare industry.

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Tell us about your role at Walmart:

I lead the WalmartHealth business, a US-centric venture that provides healthcare services including primary care, optometry, dental, counseling, labs and x-rays, and audiology. This offering provides affordable, transparent pricing for key health center services for local customers, regardless of insurance status.

 

What drove you to get into healthcare?

I have to be honest and admit that I’m not the biggest fan of healthcare, so this may not be the answer you’re expecting. While other 7-year-old kids knew they wanted to be a doctor, I knew with certainty that I did not want to be a doctor. There’s nothing fun to me about needles or blood or health insurers (who are less popular than cell phone companies). Yet, throughout the course of my career, I’ve been pulled into healthcare, which culminated with my last 13 years at Walmart. My continued interest in healthcare is precisely the fact that I don’t love it and look at it with loving passion. It comes from my own experience with family, friends, and neighbors and the huge frustrations they have navigating our overly complex healthcare system. Fixing their grievances is what motivates me.I guess you can say it’s less a passion and more an anger that drives me; a belief that we should be doing this better, considering the money we spend and the intelligence we have as a country to come up with innovative solutions to big problems. My curiosity stems from understanding why the system works the way it does, and why people are suffering from massive inadequacies in the system. There’s got to be a better way, so I’m here helping to build it.

 

During your career, what was the biggest "Eureka!" moment you had when it came to healthcare?

There were two realizations I had that crystallized at the exact same time:

1.     The healthcare business is, at its core, a consumer business.

Healthcare is the exact same as retail, though it views itself as anything but. There is no B2B company in healthcare; it’s always about the individual. This shouldn’t be a“eureka” moment, but when you orient your work through that lens… when you say it’s not about the payers or providers or clinicians but it’s about people and how you serve them, it fundamentally changes your orientation.

2.     It’s not the patient’s fault.

When I came into healthcare, I heard over and over that it was always the patient’s fault that the healthcare system (and its outcomes) were the way they were. “If only they did X” or “if only they didn’t do Y”. But, if you can change how you serve people, guess what: they start correcting their actions. We saw this whenWalmart launched its $4 generic program. When you made the price more affordable, patients started to take their medication as prescribed. When you make flu shots accessible when families are buying their groceries, they’re more likely to get one. It wasn’t magic – it was common sense. So, the failure wasn’t on the person, but the system that imposes unnecessary barriers to care.

 

Walmart is both the largest employer(thus, buyer of benefits) and one of the largest retail healthcare providers in the country. What is Walmart (as the healthcare provider) working on to improve healthcare for Americans?

Everything we do at Walmart Health is guided by a desire to address three big healthcare issues: affordability, accessibility, and complexity. When it comes to solving accessibility and complexity, the future hinges on building a truly omnichannel healthcare experience, which plays a huge part in how we’re designing Walmart Health.

Care can be delivered in three ways:across a single channel (in a doctor’s office, where the diagnosis, testing, and treatment are done in-person); across multiple channels (seeing a doctor in their office or virtually to address the medical episode); or through an omnichannel experience (seeing a doctor virtually for an initial consult; then visiting a community health center for in-person testing; and then having a prescription sent to your home for treatment). When care becomes omnichannel, it delivers infinite options in care experiences that are uniquely personalized to a patient. The more personalized it is, the more it allows for flexibility in behavior that increases the chance of adoption and continuation. You can think of the omnichannel experience as healthcare where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

We've all heard about the runaway train of healthcare costs in the US, many experiencing it first-hand. What do you consider the single biggest obstacle to fixing the US healthcare system?

I don’t think there’s necessarily a silver bullet, but there are some “bronze” bullets. One that stands out is that we do an atrocious job measuring and managing healthcare providers on measures of appropriateness. Which is to say, what’s the right course of care for a particular medical episode at a specific moment in time. For so long, the conversation has been about the quality of care; but what if you shouldn’t have gotten that care plan in the first place? And it goes beyond just ordering extra labs or x-rays. We’re living in a world where data is flowing between countries, research institutions, hospitals, and insurers – so much so, that we now know the right course of treatment for pretty much anything. Medicine is not an art; it’s a science. But, we have a medical system that won’t be told how to practice, lives by their outdated medical school textbooks, and struggles to integrate this wealth of information into their day-to-day work. There is no single entity that measures this whole-scale practice transformation, or even ensures that standards of care are being uniformly updated and put into practice. This is not a small-dollar problem; this is a multi-trillion dollar issue.  

What role do you see benefits brokerage playing in the fixing of the American healthcare system?

I see benefit brokers being one of the key entities that will drive innovation into the broader healthcare system. If brokers see their own success and employer impact challenged by the lack of widespread innovation in healthcare, they can be that force to seek it out and bring it to market, at scale. They have the potential to play a significant role in driving real industry transformation.

What do you hope to accomplish being part of the Nava Benefits Advisory Council?

I joined Nava’s Advisory Council to help smaller employers realize that innovative solutions are within their reach. I’m bringing my experience and perspective to bear, so Nava can merchandize and democratize this innovation on a wider scale outside of the Fortune 50.

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