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NRF applauds Senate’s approval of economic stimulus bill

BY Adam Kraemer

WASHINGTON The National Retail Federation welcomed the Senate approval of economic stimulus legislation that aims to boost consumer spending by providing taxpayers with rebate checks.

The Senate Friday voted 81-16 to approve H.R. 5140, the Recovery Rebates and Economic Stimulus for the American People Act of 2008, after amending a bill passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate version adds Social Security recipients and disabled veterans to the list of those eligible to receive rebate checks while barring checks for illegal immigrants.

“Expanding the rebate checks to include retirees and disabled veterans is a win-win strategy,” NRF senior vice president for government relations Steve Pfister said. “Retirees and veterans not only deserve a check, but are also among those most likely to spend the rebates so that this money gets put to work in the economy right away. The most important thing is that Congress is moving quickly, because stimulus legislation needs to be timely in order to be effective. These are very reasonable changes in the House bill, and we urge the House to agree to them and get the bill onto President Bush’s desk as soon as possible.”

The NRF is fighting for passage of economic stimulus legislation, in the face of predictions of an upcoming recession. It reported this week that the NRF board of directors—last month—passed a resolution urging the administration and Congress to act following a disappointing holiday season that saw only 3 percent sales growth, the smallest in five years. In another sign of slowing economy, the NRF also issued its 2008 forecast calling for 3.5 percent growth, the lowest increase since 2002.

“We agree with economists who say that boosting consumer spending is the quickest way to get the economy back on track,” Pfister said. “Consumer spending represents 70 percent of our nation’s economy. Money that consumers spend in retail stores supports every job behind every product on the shelf and has a ripple effect throughout the economy.”

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Wal-Mart inks deal to open in-store clinics in 200-plus locations

BY Antoinette Alexander

BENTONVILLE, Ark. Wal-Mart has announced that it will open in April its first co-branded in-store health clinic in Atlanta, Little Rock and Dallas, paving the way toward having 400 co-branded clinics by 2010.

“We know that America’s healthcare challenges are larger than any one corporation, but we’re committed to doing our part to expand access to quality, affordable health care—our commitment to partnering with local hospital systems is evidence,” stated John Agwundobi, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president and president of health and wellness. “Throughout our convenient clinics pilot, customers told us that we are providing a service that benefits their communities. We are confident that our new model of partnership with hospital systems will provide access to quality healthcare services for folks who don’t want to wait in a busy emergency room or can’t get in to see their physician.”

There currently are 77 limited-scope medical clinics open in Wal-Mart stores across 12 states through several partnerships with independent healthcare clinic operators. As widely reported, walk-in clinic operator CheckUps recently closed 23 clinics in Wal-Mart in four southern states.

Now, the big box retailer has inked a deal with clinic operator RediClinic and local hospital systems to open the co-branded clinics, dubbed The Clinic at Wal-Mart, in 200 Wal-Mart Supercenters. Wal-Mart also has signed a letter of intent to partner with St. Vincent Health System, a part of the Catholic Healthcare Initiatives system, to open four co-branded clinics in Little Rock.

Responding to the news, Citigroup analyst Deborah Weinswig said in a research note that she expects the move to drive new prescription customers and bolster front-end sales.

“Wal-Mart is giving operators a turnkey solution: offering a 500+ square foot clinic with all the bells and whistles. The operator will get major brand visibility and will not have to negotiate for space or location, deal with building permits, contractors of suppliers. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart can standardize the clinic experience no matter what store patients visit,” stated Weinswig.

She noted that she believes Wal-Mart is changing its retail clinic strategy on the heels of the closure of CheckUps by now requiring that clinic operators within its stores be either a hospital system or be closely affiliated with one.

The Clinic at Wal-Mart, owned and operated by St. Vincent Health System, is expected to open in Little Rock by the end of April, as will the clinic owned and operated by RediClinic in association with a local hospital system in Atlanta. By the summer, Wal-Mart expects to open co-branded clinics with RediClinic and a local hospital system in Dallas.

“Wal-Mart Supercenters are a great venue for RediClinic and its health care system partners because there are millions of customers in these stores every day who need easier access to the high quality, affordable health care that we provide,” stated Web Golinkin, chief executive officer of RediClinic.

The clinics operated by both RediClinic and St. Vincent plan to accept health insurance plans including Aetna, Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield and others.

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HearAtLast opens 19th Canadian Wal-Mart location, names Mele to board of directors

BY Antoinette Alexander

TORONTO HearAtLast, an operator of hearing aid clinics, has opened its 19th location within a Wal-Mart store in Canada and appointed Louie Mele, president of McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada, to its board of directors.

The grand opening of the new location within the Airdrie, Alberta Wal-Mart Store is slated for Feb. 8. HearAtLast currently owns and operates 18 hearing clinics in Wal-Mart Stores, Wal-Mart Supercenters and Sam’s Clubs in Canada. It also recently opened its first free-standing clinic in the United States in the adult community The Villages, Florida.

Meanwhile, HearAtLast has appointed Mele to its board. McDonald’s Canada signed an agreement with Wal-Mart Canada in 1994, and today McDonald’s Canada is the largest licensee of Wal-Mart Canada with 200 satellite restaurants co-located within Wal-Mart stores throughout Canada.

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