Walmart Employees Will Need to Travel for Spinal Surgeries to Lower Health Care Costs

November 15, 2018, 5:10 PM UTC

Walmart will require employees to travel to specific hospitals for spinal procedures in an effort to lower health care costs, the Wall Street Journal reported. The company said it will pay for surgeries at some well-known facilities, including Mayo Clinic and Geisinger, and will cut its budget for procedures at clinics closer to employees’ homes.

Walmart has been trying to offset pricey health care costs since 2013 by implementing a similar program, and encouraging employees to travel to hospitals known for their quality treatment, while offering to pay for the procedures and travel costs. Walmart’s insurers could not make the move at the time, however, due to their hospital contracts, Axios reported.

By requiring the travel, Walmart will be able to cut down on the costs of some unnecessary procedures, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Health-care costs are out of control, and employers are looking for opportunities to do something about that,” said Lauren Vela, a senior director with the Pacific Business Group on Health.

Walmart’s decision to mandate travel to well-regarded hospitals came after some employees who volunteered to travel to the hospitals were able to avoid unnecessary procedures, according to the Journal. For example, while some employees were at one point told they would need spinal surgery, Mayo Clinic doctors found that they could be treated with physical therapy instead.

“It’s important that we ensure our associates get the best care,” Lisa Woods, who designs Walmart’s health care plan said.

Walmart will mandate the travel starting in January 2019, and did not say how much money it projects to save with the changes.