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Merlo discusses potential of CVS-Aetna merger

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Possibilities could even include doctors on-site, he tells NPR

Larry Merlo_CVS Health

NEW YORK — Acquiring Aetna Inc. will better position CVS Health to improve health outcomes and bring affordable health care to more Americans, CVS president and chief executive officer Larry Merlo told National Public Radio (NPR).

The addition of a health insurer like Aetna will allow CVS to provide a more comprehensive care offering to consumers, particularly those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, Merlo said in an interview with NPR host Steve Inskeep aired early Wednesday on the Morning Edition program.

“Imagine a world where that patient can walk into a CVS Pharmacy and engage with a nutritionist about their diet, talk to a nurse practitioner, perhaps have their blood glucose level checked, and talk to their pharmacist about medication,” Merlo said.

CVS already operates a national drug chain (CVS Pharmacy), the largest in-store clinic chain (MinuteClinic), a pharmacy benefit manager (CVS Caremark) and specialty pharmacy (CVS Specialty), as well as long-term care pharmacy, home infusion, Medicare Part D and other businesses. That integrated model has given CVS, through its research arm, excellent insight into patient behavior concerning their medications so that pharmacists and other providers could intervene to improve outcomes.

Together, Aetna and CVS could take action earlier in the patient care process, Merlo noted.

“You think about the capabilities that Aetna has in terms of its ability to utilize information and you combine that with the convenience and human touch of CVS, it gives us the opportunity to be more proactive in how we engage patients and help them achieve the best health possible,” he explained.

“Today, with what we can do at CVS Pharmacy, we know if a patient has not filled their medication on time. And the fact that they haven’t, let’s talk to the patient and let’s find out why,” Merlo told NPR. “So we’re reacting to something after the event has occurred. The Aetna team has the ability to use the information they have in terms of how can we be more predictive with someone who is demonstrating behaviors that have not resulted in an unintended consequence, but we can engage and intervene with them before something unnecessary happens.”

Combined, CVS and Aetna will be more competitive by being able to reduce overall health care costs, Merlo emphasized.

“The ability to do that will allow us to bring products to market with lower premiums, perhaps lower deductibles, and that’s how the system works,” he said.

When Inskeep asked if members of non-CVS/Aetna benefit plans would have to pay more to fill a prescription at a CVS Pharmacy, Merlo said no.

“They wouldn’t. We want to make these services available broadly in the marketplace, and that is not our goal or our objective as we go forward,” he said.

Down the road, there’s the potential to even bring doctors to CVS locations as the merged company evolves its care model, Merlo acknowledged.

“In the coming months and years, we’re going to be testing and piloting a variety of alternatives that may include having physicians on-site. I think that’s something that we want to better understand as we go forward,” he said.

Inskeep interjected, “So my pharmacy might also be my doctor’s office?” And Merlo replied, “It potentially could be.”

CVS announced its $69 billion deal to acquire Aetna on Dec. 3. The CVS-Aetna merger agreement has been approved by the boards of both companies. Pending shareholder and regulatory approval and other customary closing conditions, the transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2018.


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