Health care: while government dithers, private enterprise delivers

While Barack Obama schemes to enlarge the government's control over health care, private enterprise has stepped in to provide low cost, quality health care to Americans. Since 2000, over 1,200 private in-store clinics, typically staffed by nurse practitioners, have been opened by such companies as Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Target, and CVS and have served more than 3.5 million patients, providing treatment for minor ailments, routine physicals, immunizations, and the like, and doing so more cost-effectively than traditional medical facilities.

A new study, to be published in the September edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that clinics in drug stores provide care for minor ailments "on par with, or better than, other medical facilities at significantly lower costs."

The quality of care offered at the in-store clinics was in line with doctors' offices and urgent care centers and slightly better than at emergency departments, Dr. Ateev Mehrotra of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Rand research institute and colleagues found.

And the health care is being delivered at a lower cost. Nearly all of the clinics treat both the insured and uninsured. With a more price-sensitive market, it is not surprising to find that "the fees are low - and conspicuously posted." According to the study, the average cost for treatment at private drug store clinics was $110, including the evaluation, pharmacy, laboratory and other costs. This compares to an average cost of $156 at an urgent care facility, $166 at a doctor's office and $570 at an emergency department. What's more, "there is little or no waiting time."

Mehrotra characterized the retail clinics as "an innovative new way of delivering health care." Its just the kind of innovation sure to be stifled under a one-size-fits-all regime of socialized medicine.