Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Walmart is expanding its unique employee health benefit.

Why it matters: Walmart is the largest private-sector employer in the country, and it has taken a remarkably hands-on approach to seeking out quality in its health coverage — even when that comes at a considerable cost.

Where it stands: Walmart contracts directly with a small group of high-quality systems — including Geisinger and the Mayo Clinic — and pays employees’ travel costs, in addition to their medical costs, if they'll get certain procedures at those preferred facilities.

What's new: Walmart is adding more providers to that small network, and is also testing out a sort of health care concierge for its workers. 

  • The company will test a program featuring local providers in Central Florida and Dallas. The providers will still be selected based on Walmart's quality metrics.
  • It will steer employees to those doctors for 8 specialties: primary care, cardiology, gastroenterology, endocrinology, obstetrics, oncology, orthopedics and pulmonology.
  • Walmart is also piloting a concierge service to help employees navigate "billing and appointments, but also finding a quality provider, understanding a diagnosis and addressing other complex questions," the company said in a release.
  • That program will roll out in the Carolinas.

Thought bubble: Walmart's effort to seek out and favor high-quality providers, even when it comes at a near-term cost, is a stark contrast to the penny-pinching and cost-shifting that define so much of the employer market.

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