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CVS’ Merlo speaks out on Rx and health care

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WASHINGTON — Pharmacy is helping solve the “cost-quality-access conundrum” facing health care, says CVS Health president and chief executive officer Larry Merlo.

“Pharmacy is extending the front lines of health care to deliver better outcomes more affordably to the people that we serve,” Merlo said this month at the National Press Club.

Contending that the country must and can do more to slow the growth of health care costs, he said that CVS is playing a vital role as a partner to physicians as they shift their focus from volume to outcomes and cost effectiveness.

Also, “retailization” of health care means consumers are more informed and playing a greater part in health decisions. And while the transition to digital technology has been slower in health care than other areas of life, “significant and lasting change is under way,” Merlo ­observed.

Such innovation is not optional, he commented, saying many experts believe the health care industry will change more in the next 10 years than it has in the past 50.

One crucial avenue to improve quality, cost and access is pharmacy care, he said. CVS exemplifies the reinvention of pharmacy with its Pharmacy Advisor program for people with chronic diseases, Specialty Connect offering patients choice and flexibility in how they access specialty medications, MinuteClinics and focus on digital innovation, he said.

The retailer’s elimination of tobacco products this year came in response to the “staggering” effects of smoking, Merlo said. More than 42 million American adults smoke and 480,000 die annually from tobacco related illnesses. The economic cost of smoking and exposure to smoke is approaching $300 billion a year.

CVS wrestled for some time “with the inconsistency of tobacco sales in a place where health care is delivered,” he said, given the $2 billion the products brought in yearly.

Now tobacco-free — one month ahead of schedule — “we’re proud to say that we’re the first national pharmacy chain,” Merlo said, “to take this step to support the well-being of our patients and our ­customers.”

Citing overwhelmingly positive feedback, he added, “There’s no question that a national conversation about tobacco has been reignited.”

CVS firmly and wholeheartedly believes “it’s the right thing to do for the long-term growth of our company,” he said. And the company’s launch of a smoking cessation campaign addresses the seven in 10 smokers who want to quit, and their average need to try to quit seven times before they succeed. “We want those people to never quit quitting until they’re successful.”


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