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Obama cites CVS as a leader in State of Union speech

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WASHINGTON — Larry Merlo basked in the glow of a tribute to CVS Health from President Obama during the State of the Union address last month.

Attending the speech at the invitation of first lady Michelle Obama, the CVS chief executive officer was shown on national television after the president said, “Tonight, I’m also asking more businesses to follow the lead of companies like CVS and UPS and offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships — opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.”

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CVS Health president and chief executive officer Larry Merlo (top center) was invited to President Obama’s State of the Union address as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama.

According to the White House blog, Merlo was invited to sit in Mrs. Obama’s box in recognition of CVS’ decision to stop selling tobacco products. The blog also noted that CVS Health trains pharmacy technicians through apprenticeships, offers scholarships to future pharmacists and engages diverse students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.

“CVS Health has also established programs to hire long-term unemployed workers and create summer jobs for youth and has a longstanding commitment to hiring qualified veterans and military spouses,” it added.

Apprenticeships are not new for CVS Health. The company was the first to launch a U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship program for pharmacy technicians in 2005. Since then, it has placed more than 1,500 people in Registered Apprenticeship career tracks in retail pharmacy and management.

“Apprenticeships are a powerful tool for both the apprentice and for CVS Health,” said David Casey, the company’s vice president of workforce strategies and chief diversity officer. “Participants receive hands-on experience, industry-recognized credentials and, in some cases, college credit, while CVS Health is able to develop a pipeline of talented and skilled employees.”

Merlo told the Providence Journal that the tobacco ban struck a chord with the public. “I think everyone could relate to the effects of tobacco and how it may have affected a family member or a loved one.”

In the State of the Union message, Obama also hailed the Affordable Care Act, saying that in the past year some 10 million uninsured Americans gained health coverage. Health care inflation was at its lowest rate in 50 years, he added.

Any attempt by Congress to overturn the ACA will be vetoed, he vowed, saying, “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance.”

The president also called for the country “to lead a new era of medicine — one that delivers the right treatment at the right time.” The approach has led to gains in some cases in the treatment of cystic fibrosis, a disease that had been considered irreversible, he noted. “So tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier. We can do this.”

Steve Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, commented, “Momentum is growing to help find cures for chronic and fatal diseases through medical innovations.”

He likened the Precision Medicine Initiative to the 21st Century Cures Initiative introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R.,Mich.) and committee member Diana DeGette (D., Colo.) to harness the power of technology and bring together researchers, innovators and patients in order to understand diseases better and advance ­research.

“This heightened recognition of the need to find cures for diseases further illustrates the need for collaboration and coordination within the health care delivery system, and for bipartisan alignment within the government,” Anderson said.

“Pharmacies are known for their commitment to medication safety and effectiveness — providing accurate prescriptions, helping patients take medications as prescribed and safely, and advising patients on potential drug interactions. And through personal interactions with patients and face-to-face consultations, and innovative new services, pharmacies are also helping to shape the health care delivery system of tomorrow — in partnership with doctors, nurses and others.

“Pharmacies are also already — or working toward — delivering new drug treatments that can help patients better manage and treat chronic conditions and diseases.”


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