Healthcare reform to open clinic doors

NEW YORK —New healthcare legislation—coupled with the aging U.S. population and a shortage of primary care physicians—will benefit the convenient care industry, and several clinic operators are gearing up for future growth.

“Healthcare reform is a positive development for retail clinics because there are about 30 million people who are currently uninsured and will have healthcare coverage,” said Andrew Sussman, president of MinuteClinic and SVP and associate chief medical officer for CVS Caremark. “Add to that the aging of the population and the shortage of primary care practitioners, and the opportunity for services, such as those provided by MinuteClinic, has the potential for growth.” In fact, Sussman noted that, as a consequence, MinuteClinic could double its current number of clinics in five years. MinuteClinic has 500 locations in 25 states, making it the largest provider.

MinuteClinic also is looking to increase the number of services offered, specifically those services for patients with chronic illnesses. This move already has been evidenced by the recent introduction of Monitoring Made Easy, its new health-condition monitoring services for patients with diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and asthma.

Echoing the sentiment, Peter Miller, president and CEO of Take Care Health Systems and divisional VP for Walgreens, said, “healthcare reform is just going to be more wind in the sails for retail clinics, and specifically for Take Care Clinics.… We see this as an evolutionary thing.”

“Along the way, the environment is just going to be better for retail clinics,” Miller added. “We, by the way, think it is pretty good right now for retail clinics, but this is just more additional wind in the sails. More specifically, it is about tens of millions of people who previously had not had access to health care and, in a government-led reform, will have access to health care.”

As far as Take Care Health Systems’ specific growth plans, Miller didn’t elaborate, but he did say that he sees Minute-Clinic’s plans to double in size in five years as a “very strong indication” that there’s a need for retail-based clinics in the U.S. healthcare system. Take Care Health Systems currently operates about 360 retail-based clinics.

“We’ve had a very clear strategy—certainly since Walgreens bought us—that we are going to continue to open clinics. We are going to make sure that we can not only delight patients, but we [also] can make these clinics profitable, and, in essence, we are proving that,” said Miller, who on May 6 announced that he will be leaving Take Care Health Systems at the end of the month to pursue a new entrepreneurial venture. “All of the work we’ve done says that the market can support between 3,000 and 6,000 clinics before it even begins to approach any level of ‘saturation.’”

Meanwhile, Kroger has in dicated that it views its in-store health-clinic business, The Little Clinic, as an important part of its commitment to health and wellness, and, according to a local news report, is in the midst of planning expansion. There currently are 80 Little Clinics inside select Kroger stores nationwide. The relationship between Kroger and the clinic operator began in 2003 when Kroger opened its first Little Clinic in a Kroger store in Louisville, Ky. In February, Kroger acquired The Little Clinic for, according to the news report, $86 million.