On Sunday, it was announced that pharmacy chain CVS is in the midst of buying health insurance provider Aetna for $ 69 billion. While on the surface this may appear to be top-level business news, the merger enables two major health service providers with an opportunity to reshape American health care. As The New York Times observes, combining CVS and Aetna will help broaden the types of care that patients will receive at pharmacy locations. The merger will make CVS pharmacies more robust in handling health concerns by shifting them into “community-based sites of care,” including on-site nursing staff and the ability to conduct lab work.
The merger also hopes to save patients money by reducing hospital visits, both by way of analyzing and fighting disease outside of a doctor’s office. As the Aetna announcement states, much of this will be visible through out-of-hospital check-ins by way of “medical evaluations” and counseling for ailments like diabetes at CVS locations. These beefed up pharmacies will extend the reach of hospitals by bringing experts in-house to explain complicated matters like medications and results like glucose levels at venues blocks away from home.
But the move means something larger than merely a potential win for CVS and Aetna customers: we are likely to see more retailers join forces with health insurance providers to create similar satellite health venues. Other major, billion-dollar deals are currently in the works between Wal-mart and Humana, along with Walgreens, Cigna, and Anthem. Industry experts see these moves as a response to Amazon’s potential plans to disrupt the healthcare industry by working directly with drug makers.
A major concern when blurring the lines between healthcare provider and pharmacy is the fact that the combination of giants like CVS and Aetna will mean that people have less choice in care. According to CNN Money, advocacy groups are concerned that these newly joined forces will make patients pay more for a dramatically limited scope of available drugs. Moreover, supposed cost-cutting doesn’t quite make sense given both CVS and Aetna were previously working closely to lower drug prices, meaning there’s a possibility over-the-counter purchases of drugs will remain the same price.
This year has been a rollercoaster ride for healthcare coverage, and CVS’s acquisition of Aetna only complicates the matter further. As NPR notes, the move will effectively turn healthcare retailers into insurers, a reality that has both positive aspects (like insurance seamlessly tailored to a network of drug providers) and negative aspects (like nonlowered drug prices). CVS and Aetna’s coupling appears to be an insider healthcare deal, but the reality is that the ripples will be huge and might soon be affecting a pharmacy near you.