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Program combines retail pharmacy, in-store and onsite clinics for employer health plans
Building on its mid-2008 acquisitions of Whole Health Management and I-Trax, and blending in its retail-pharmacy network of 6,600 stores and in-store clinics, Walgreens (Deerfield, IL) is now offering a program called “Complete Care and Well-Being” to employer health plans. The presumed benefit to plans is centralized, lower-cost services for many aspects of healthcare—and price transparency; the benefit to employees is convenience, a discount prescription drug program, and discounts for Walgreens store products.
In announcing the program at the company’s annual meeting, Walgreens president and COO Greg Wasson noted that the company’s in-store Minute Clinics alone filled 1.1 million flu shots last year. “We are fast becoming a major provider of immunizations and vaccinations, which is a $6 billion industry and growing rapidly.” Overall, Walgreens has a goal of developing 10,000 “points of care” for dispensing pharmaceuticals and health services nationwide by 2012.
Competing for the healthcare dollar
Walgreens actions are an attempt to carve out a portion of retail drug dispensing, and health services, that PBMs are competing for on the drug side, and integrated health systems on the health side. Walgreens believes that, besides lowering cost of healthcare for employer plans through its drug-purchasing power and coordinated health services, it can improve patient wellness through better medication adherence and, ultimately, better health outcomes. Walgreens says that its pharmaceutical services already include infusion, specialty pharmacy, mail order and disease management.
Although geared initially to employers, the program’s availability will extends to health insurers and managed care organizations. “Complete Care and Well-Being can be a single-source offering, using Walgreen’s pharmacy administration capabilities, or it can be integrated with an existing pharmacy and health care benefit provider,” said Wasson in the announcement. “The prescription pricing component allows companies that use a [PBM] to continue doing so while taking advantage of all that we can offer. Insurers and managed care organizations can also offer more value in their own networks by capitalizing on our program and its nationwide availability of services.”
Although the overall project has been in the works for several years, it’s possible that its rollout was accelerated by the actions of WalMart, which announced a pilot program in September to provide a pharmacy benefit program to employees of Caterpillar (Peoria, IL), their dependents and retirees (about 70,000 altogether), through Wal-Mart pharmacies. The first-of-its-kind program (according to Caterpillar) allows beneficiaries to obtain many generics at no cost.
For the pharma industry, these retail level actions offer a more unified pool of patients for some medication regimens, and the potential to organize patient-compliance programs or other ancillary services. Neither company mentioned formularies in their announcements, but that business component could enter the picture if the programs succeed in getting the participation of managed care organizations.