The Wal-Mart Safety Net

As long-time readers know, I’m a huge critic of Wal-Mart’s critics, who typically combine two characteristics I despise: A complete misunderstanding of economics, and a fundamentalist faith in the power of trade unions.

What these critics miss is that fact that Wal-Mart passes nearly all of the savings it squeezes out of its value chain straight to its customers, who are largely lower-income.

Wal-Mart is the single greatest benefactor to the underprivileged in the country.

A recent example of this appeared in Andrew Sullivan’s blog. One of his readers had been laid off, and was worried about having to forgo needed medicines and treatment. Enter Wal-Mart:
I kept my COBRA going, but at $538/month, it became unsustainable. I let it lapse four months ago. Last month, I couldn’t refill my high-blood pressure medications and I took my last thyroid pill on Saturday. I didn’t know what I was to do. Kaiser wouldn’t even let me PAY for my medications as I wasn’t a member now. I remembered Wal-Mart had these walk-in clinics. In desperation and fearing the worst, I went on Easter Sunday. The clinic was spotless, the doctor was a retired UCD Medical Center Professor who just wanted to keep his hand in and see patients, there wasn’t any wait, the cost was only $59, and my prescriptions were only $9 each for a 100 days supply. Total with Wal-Mart: $86. With my Kaiser, I would have paid a $25 copay for the doctor visit and three $25 copays for each medication. Total with Kaiser: $100, but AFTER I paid $538/month to remain a member. Before Wal-Mart, my blood pressure was 123/186, today it is back down to 84/124. To recap:

Costs with health insurance: $538/month for insurance plus $100 in out of pocket costs.
Costs with Wal-Mart: $0/month, plus $86 in out of pocket costs. And a better customer experience.

Thank you capitalism.

Chew on that, Barbara Ehrenreich.

P.S. Wal-Mart does not pay me for my opinions in any way, though my family does shop there frequently, and the kids love the pet fish section.

P.P.S. I wouldn’t mind getting paid for my opinions in case any Wal-Mart executives happen to be reading this post (hint, hint)!

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