Customers can find a vast range of goods at Walmart (WMT -0.36%). Starting next week, they will be able to put a health insurance policy in their shopping cart, too.
The big retailer announced Tuesday that it is launching Walmart Insurance Services, a licensed brokerage, on Thursday, Oct. 15. The unit, which is licensed in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, will begin by selling Medicare insurance plans. The start date is no accident, as that is the beginning of Medicare's Annual Enrollment Period (which runs through Dec. 7).
In that initial stage, Walmart Insurance Services will sell Medicare plans from a variety of well-known providers, including but not limited to Humana, Anthem, and UnitedHealth Group's UnitedHealthcare. The company says more might be added in the future.
The initial concentration on Medicare plans is in character for Walmart, which for years has been resolutely focused on budget-conscious customers. Accordingly, the company played up the potential money-saving aspects of its new service, citing recent research from eHealth indicating that one in 10 Medicare beneficiaries has a plan that is the most cost-effective in terms of out-of-pocket spending.
"Helping customers select the right Medicare insurance plan to meet their needs aligns with Walmart's mission of helping people save money and live better," the company wrote in the press release announcing the new service.
On Tuesday, Walmart's shares fell by 0.8%. This, however, bettered the S&P 500 index, which declined by 1.4% on the day.