Walmart Adds Health Insurance to Smorgasbord of New Offerings

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It can be difficult keeping up with the new services that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) is offering in its U.S. stores. Last April, it was a deal with AutoInsurance.com, then came in-store clinics at some stores, and, most recently, checking accounts. Monday, the company said it would offer health insurance through DirectHealth.com at about 2,700 of its more than 4,000 U.S. stores beginning on October 10.

DirectHealth.com will staff the stores with independent insurance agents, and Walmart does not receive any cut on health insurance sales.

The recent opening of the Walmart-owned clinics in stores in three states comes nearly nine years after Walmart first offered health care services through contract providers in some 100 stores in Georgia, South Carolina and Texas. Both the auto and health insurance offerings are being made by a subsidiary of direct-to-consumer insurance provider Tranzact that was established specifically for Walmart.

Walmart has tried for years to expand its U.S. business, which seems to have hit a wall beyond which growth is difficult. So the company has chosen to see if it can broaden its offerings in order to compete harder with drug stores that are also broadening their own health services offerings and to bring more traffic into Walmart’s stores.

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Then there is the company’s partnership with Green Dot Corp. (NYSE: GDOT) to offer checking accounts through Green Dot’s GoBank that doesn’t exactly create a Walmart Bank, but does create something that looks awfully much like a bank.

Walmart has apparently come to terms with the fact that the burst of business it saw immediately after the financial crisis was an aberration and not a whole new category of customers. The company is once again focusing on its core customers who shop the store in search of low prices. Walmart wants customers to make the leap from low-priced stuff to affordable auto and health insurance and, in some cases, health care.

Notice that the company is not taking on all the risk itself all at once. If the insurance business does well the terms of the deal with Tranzact could well change. Same with the health care and banking businesses.

Walmart’s chances of posting new growth as a result of these moves is at least as good as it is from opening thousands of new smaller format stores.

Shares of Walmart were down fractionally shortly after the noon hour on Monday, at $77.28 in a 52-week range of $71.51 to $81.37.

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