In 2019, to much pomp and circumstance, Walmart announced the launch of Walmart Health, a move opening the door for big box retailers to enter the health care sector. In March 2023, Walmart seemed to double down, announcing it would open 28 more clinics and expand telehealth access. However, Walmart is now shuttering its Walmart Health clinics and turning off their telehealth webcams for good. This is just one example of retailers retreating from the health care sector. Walgreens announced it plans to close 160 of its VillageMD primary care clinics, CVS is scaling back operations with its MinuteClinics and its partner Carbon Health, and Amazon is reducing its One Medical workforce. Despite this retreat, some retailers are reworking their business plans to focus more certain markets and demographics.

Why are retailers retreating from health care?

In its announcement, Walmart credits its decision to a “challenging reimbursement environment and escalating operating costs” that made Walmart Health’s business model unsustainable. Despite its importance, the U.S. spent 4.7% of its total health care spending on primary care in 2021 compared to an average of 14% in other high-income countries. In Medicare, primary care represents roughly 3% of spending despite the greater needs of older and disabled adults. Another contributing factor to “disruptors” being disrupted is the shift to value-based care. Increasingly, beneficiaries are seeking comprehensive, integrated, and longitudinal care from health systems that are large enough to provide it. Sara Vaezy, Chief Strategy and Digital Officer for Providence Health, emphasizes that primary care is hard; telling Politico, “it doesn’t pay, and there isn’t necessarily a runway in the near term for it to pay without it being connected to a broader continuum of care.”

Who’s still in the game?

Despite pulling out entirely from providing primary care, Walmart plans to maintain its nearly 4,600 pharmacies and more than 3,000 vision centers. Even though they’ve scaled back their operations, Walgreens, CVS, and Amazon are still in the game with other retailers, for now. These other retailers have indicated they plan to focus on specific markets and demographics, such as more urban areas and seniors. This week, Koger announced that it is partnering with Better Health Group to launch primary care clinics for senior patients within eight of its “The Little Clinic” locations around Atlanta, GA.