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The Future of Healthcare with Lisa Woods, US Strategy and Design for Walmart

Lisa Woods serves as Senior Director, U.S. Strategy & Design of Benefits for Walmart, Inc. Woods is a benefits professional with broad based knowledge and has been recognized nationally as an innovator and thought leader in health care with a strong commitment to ensuring that more than a million Walmart associates have access to benefits […]

Photographs of Lisa Woods, Senior. Director of US Health Care at Walmart at Arkansas headquarters on 2/7/20 for HFMA Magazine.
Photographs of Lisa Woods, Senior. Director of US Health Care at Walmart at Arkansas headquarters on 2/7/20 for HFMA Magazine.

Lisa Woods serves as Senior Director, U.S. Strategy & Design of Benefits for Walmart, Inc. Woods is a benefits professional with broad based knowledge and has been recognized nationally as an innovator and thought leader in health care with a strong commitment to ensuring that more than a million Walmart associates have access to benefits that are comprehensive, affordable, and competitive. Woods has played a key role in developing a portfolio of innovative programs focused on payment reform, reducing waste in the system and ensuring appropriateness of care for Walmart associates.  

Walmart Inc. helps people around the world save money and live better – anytime and anywhere – in retail stores, online and through their mobile devices. Each week, over 275 million customers and members visit more than 11,300 stores under 58 banners in 27 countries and eCommerce websites.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been naturally drawn to the health care industry because of the potential to help people. I was fortunate to find a job with Walmart in the Benefits department thirty years ago and have since managed almost all aspects of the process. I started as a medical claims processor, then transitioned to claims auditor, moved on to build our claims processing system and managed associates across our research and development team. I also managed the fraud and abuse team, customer service and now in my current role I lead the strategy and design of our benefit plans for more than one million Walmart associates and their dependents. Walmart has provided me with wonderful opportunities over the years to continue to grow in a career path that I’m passionate about.  

It’s through these opportunities that I’ve been able to deliver on my ultimate goal of helping people and believe we are truly making a difference for our associates and their families. We’re designing benefits that increase the accessibility and affordability of health care, such as providing $4 telehealth primary care services, including behavioral health. Another program that I’m proud of is the creation of Walmart’s Centers of Excellence, which cover 100 percent of the care for treatments including cancer, knee and hip replacement, kidney transplants and spine surgery, when associates use providers that have been designated for their best-in-class care such as the Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins University

With our size and scale, one of the things I love about Walmart is that there are so many opportunities to do interesting work that makes a difference. I’m so privileged that Walmart has empowered me to create innovative benefits that are reshaping the standard of care across our company, and hopefully, the industry at large too. When I first started, there weren’t many women in my department, but that has changed, and Walmart has afforded me countless opportunities to really make a mark on our benefits design. As a business, we know that a diverse workforce force helps us to deliver a better experience for our associates and customers which is why we are committed to hiring and developing women through our recruitment, mentorship and training efforts. 

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?  

I’m not sure I have the funniest mistake, but I can tell you my biggest learning early in my career:  It’s okay to make mistakes – as long as you learn from them. I am a perfectionist at heart and it’s hard when you don’t get it right every time. With the support of some great women leaders at Walmart, they challenged me to be more confident and push the needle forward.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We’re the country’s largest employer, and our hope is that we can help others in the industry learn how to change health care delivery based on the example we’re setting. We have an immense opportunity to alter the way employers approach health care benefit design because of the size and scale of Walmart.

Take our Centers of Excellence, for example. We partner with the Mayo Clinic for cancer treatment, and we’ve seen that fifty-five percent of our associates who enter treatment there receive a “new or adjusted” treatment plan, with ten percent getting a new diagnosis altogether. Sometimes the diagnosis is that they actually don’t have cancer, or it’s progressed to a different state than was previously thought. 

I’ve talked to patients after they receive care through the Centers, who say things like, “We did not know health care could look like this,” or “How can I experience this level of care in my community?” By ensuring that our associates get the right care from the right place, we’re improving their medical outcomes and lowering their financial burden, which is really what it’s all about.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, we are always looking for ways to innovate and improve health care access and affordability for our associates and their families. We’re currently piloting a program to provide associates with access to a Personal Healthcare Assistant through a single phone number or website to get answers to health care and benefit questions. The assistant can help with billing questions, make an appointment, find a quality provider, help understand a diagnosis and provide access to clinical resources. It can even help with coordinating transportation or providing childcare during appointments. So often, coordinating all the aspects of our health care across different providers can be one of the most time consuming and difficult things to do, so this healthcare assistant has the potential to make a difference—saving our associates a lot of time. Right now, the pilot is available to associates in North and South Carolina, but we’ll be evaluating the initial metrics in the coming months to see the impact it’s creating.  

What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Before I started, I wish someone had told me that “this company you are getting ready to join is really special.”  The culture embraces all the things that I personally value, like integrity and challenging the status quo. We have the opportunity to create and design benefits to make a difference in one individual at a time and with many communities over time.  I also wish someone had told me that at Walmart, it is ok to fail.  We fail fast, learn and move forward.  And finally, that the opportunities to grow and learn are unbelievable, especially as a woman.  It is why I have always been at Walmart and have never had interest in going anywhere else. What we have here is so special and I had no idea when I started the company what this unbelievable journey could and would be like.  

What is the value of a support network? 

A strong support system is vital. I’m blessed to have a personal and professional network I can lean on, but what I’m most grateful for is the role our benefits teams plays in being a support system for Walmart associates as they navigate the health care system. The programs we’re championing are designed to support both better health and health care for our associates. It’s providing them with the confidence that their care is covered if they have a catastrophic health event, connecting them with a Centers of Excellence to ensure they have best-in-class care at 100 percent of the cost or providing tools to help them receive convenient telehealth care instead of going into a clinic. My goal is to ensure our associates feel support across all areas of the health care continuum. 

Where do you see the future of health care?

The future of health care hinges on access to quality, affordable care. My focus at Walmart is to provide the best care for our associates and their dependents, through programs like the Centers of Excellence and telehealth visits. But in order to really raise the bar across the industry, we need a shift in the way health care is delivered nationwide. We can’t do it alone, but we’re proud to be a leader who is helping to transform our corner of the industry.

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