National Press Club

CVS plans to be a health care center

January 14, 2019 | By Gwen Flanders | glflanders@gmail.com

CVS Health president and chief executive Larry Merlo told a National Press Club Headliners luncheon Monday he wants to expand the drugstore's role in the U.S. healthcare system.

CVS Health president and chief executive Larry Merlo told a National Press Club Headliners luncheon Monday he wants to expand the drugstore's role in the U.S. healthcare system.

Photo/Image: Marshall Cohen

CVS is working on a transformation of how Americans get health care, starting with its drugstores.

Larry Merlo, president and chief executive of CVS Health, outlined what he called the company's bold vision at a National Press Club Headliners luncheon Monday.

At the center are CVS drugstores, soon to become destinations for patients to receive a range of health services, including monitoring for chronic conditions, lab tests, eye exams and hearing tests, said Merlo, who began his career as a pharmacist.

"And we'll be able to do all of this, not in a fragmented way but seamlessly with patients, their doctors and many other health players in the system that it takes to coordinate care," he said.

Stores will be redesigned to dedicate 20 percent of floor space to new services. The first such store is set to open in February in Houston.

The nation is at an "inflection point with health care," Merlo said, "facing an opportunity to fundamentally transform the way the system works, making it better for consumers and building much healthier communities."

Despite some opposition from doctors, he doesn't see the CVS plan stepping on their toes. Half the people who visit CVS Minute Clinics, he said, go at night or on weekends, when doctors' offices are not open. Half have no regular doctor.

CVS is working with government agencies to allow pharmacists to expand their role, Merlo said. CVS's activities would complement that of a physician.

He described a hypothetical patient whose doctor has diagnosed her with diabetes and given her prescriptions for medication and lab work, and dietary instructions. Will she keep track of all that? While she sees her doctor four or five times a year, she sees her pharmacist as many as 18 to 24 times.

"This is where the combination of CVS Health and (newly acquired) Aetna can make a difference," Merlo said, "through a local physical presence ... regular one-on-one interactions with health care professionals she knows and trusts, and access to tools and information that help her down her path to better health."

It will make CVS a catalyst for improving the health care system, Merlo asserted.

"Helping people make better decisions about their own health and wellness is key to improving health outcomes and lower costs," he said.

Merlo said CVS is already reducing drug costs to consumers by adding information on alternatives to doctors' electronic prescription systems.

Merlo announced a $100 million, five-year commitment to target underserved communities with free health screenings; partner with local charities on social, behavioral and environmental issues that affect health; invest in innovative approaches to managing chronic diseases and tackling the opioid epidemic; fund tobacco-free programs; and support U.S. News & World Report's Healthiest Communities rankings.