Brewer’s strategy producing results at WBA

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Implementing the strategy mapped out by CEO Roz Brewer, Walgreens Boots Alliance has steadily gained traction over the last 13 months. The latest evidence of the company’s progress came early this month with the announcement that VillageMD, a provider of value-based primary care in which WBA has a majority stake, had agreed to buy Summit Health-CityMD for some $8.9 billion. The deal continues the process of expanding the range of WBA’s capabilities at a time when both long-established players and newcomers are attempting to reengineer the way health care in this country is delivered.

The combination of VillageMD and Summit Health-CityMD (itself the product of a merger three years ago) gives WBA a leg up in the competition among retailers — including but not limited to CVS Health, Walmart and Amazon — to bring primary care provided by doctors to their customers. Together, the new entity will have almost 700 provider locations in 26 markets, including more than 150 Village Medical at Walgreens locations.

Summit Health-CityMD’s experience in multispecialty care will add another dimension to VillageMD’s focus on value-based primary care. Executives say that the combined company will maintain a multiplayer platform, work to speed the transition to a risk-based care model, and offer services virtually and in the home.

Another noteworthy aspect of the deal is the involvement of Evernorth, Cigna Corp.’s health services organization, as an investor in VillageMD. Ever­north’s minority stake will enable it to strengthen relationships with primary care doctors and specialists, as well as improving patient access within a value-based paradigm.

“Summit Health-CityMD joining VillageMD is transformational for our U.S. Healthcare segment and reinforces our intent to create greater access to quality health care across the care continuum,” Brewer notes. “This transaction accelerates growth opportunities through a strong market footprint and wide network of providers and patients across primary, specialty and urgent care.”

A central pillar of WBA’s strategy, U.S. Healthcare is quickly taking shape. A month prior to the announcement of the acquisition by VillageMD, WBA accelerated plans to take full ownership of CareCentrix, a leader in post-acute and home care, an increasingly important market segment as payers aim to deliver services at the lowest-cost site of care, while at the same time avoiding hospital readmissions. CareCentrix, which coordinates care for 19 million individuals through a network of 7,400 provider locations, offers a broad range of services, including nursing, durable medical equipment, home infusion and palliative care.

In September, WBA agreed to take complete control of Shields Health Solutions, strengthening its position in the burgeoning specialty pharmacy market. Shields is best known as a health system-owned specialty pharmacy integrator. In that capacity, the company has helped care for more than a million patients, and worked with 80 health systems that operate some 1,000 hospitals across the U.S.

In addition to providing assets that help WBA build a health care ecosystem that goes well beyond its roots in retail pharmacy, the CareCentrix and Shields transactions brought with them executives who will contribute to implementation of Brewer’s strategy. Lee Cooper, who had been CEO at Shields, now oversees the pharmacy business at Walgreens, where he is an executive vice president. (The retail side of the drug chain is led by Tracey Brown, president of Walgreens Retail Products and chief customer officer.)

Former CareCentrix CEO John Driscoll has taken on a pivotal role at WBA — president of U.S. Healthcare. Reporting directly to Brewer, Driscoll, who is also a corporate executive vice president, spearheads WBA’s efforts to make health care simpler, more effective and more efficient by connecting points across the continuum of care. His past experience should prove invaluable as he stands up a new division where technology is expected to link patients, providers and payers in a seamless whole. Before joining CareCentrix, Driscoll was president of Castlight Health, a health care navigation company, and served as group vice president for new markets at Medco. He also was chairman of SureScripts.

“John brings a wealth of experience and leadership across many different aspects of health care, all of which will play an important role in delivering on our vision to reimagine local health care for all,” says Brewer.

In one sense, VillageMD’s acquisition of Summit Health-CityMD brought the series of developments outlined here full circle. One of Brewer’s first major moves, back in October 2021, was to invest an additional $5.2 billion in VillageMD. The move paved the way for the launch of 600 Village Medical at Walgreens locations in more than 30 markets by 2025, and 1,000 two years after that. It was an early indication that Brewer is fully committed to WBA’s future as a multifaceted health care provider and care coordinator.

Since taking the reins as CEO in March 2021, Brewer has done a remarkable job in focusing the company on the things that matter most — harnessing existing assets and developing new ones to support patients at every stage on their health care journey, adapting the retail business to stay in sync with evolving consumer preferences, and leveraging technology to deliver on those promises. In light of progress to date, all indications are that Brewer has put WBA on course to achieve those objectives.


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