Walgreens Free Health Clinic Visits a Sign of the Times

You can look at this story in several ways. Walgreens is offering free health clinic visits to unemployed and uninsured individuals. According to the Associated Press, individuals and their uninsured dependents who become unemployed and uninsured after March 31 will be able to receive free treatment at Walgreen’s in-store clinic, which operates under the Take Care brand name. The typical visit costs $59 or more. Take Care’s lab partner, Quest Diagnostics, is helping out by offering tests for strep throat and urinary tract infections at no cost.

How you interpret this says something about your health care reform biases. Some will see this as further proof that the private sector can fill in the cracks of the safety net. After all, Take Care clinics are a for-profit entity. The press their receiving for this program and the positive word-of-mouth they’ll be receiving. Additionally, since the Take Care program provides free services for treatment that might otherwise wind up in an emergency room or urgent care center, they may make some sales of their other services such as immunizations or makes additional over-the-counter drug sales. So what they’re doing is an example of a market-driven win-win: consumers get care; Walgreens gets more customers.

The other perspective is that this effort highlights the cracks in the system. Newly unempl0yed who don’t qualify for government medical assistance through Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP) are poorly served by today’s system. Without employer based coverage and unable to afford individual insurance, they must rely on a drug store for their health care. There’s something wrong with that picture.

My take: Walgreens is to be commended for reaching out a helping hand to those who need it, even if they’ll profit from the gesture. And universal, portable and affordable health care coverage is needed and needed soon. The current system works well for most Americans, but as a nation it’s our culture not to leave anyone behind. The lesson here isn’t that we need a government-run system, but that we need a more comprehensive, integrated and sensible system to assure basic health care coverage to all Americans.