CVS earnings reveal a spike in Medicare Advantage enrollment through CVA-Aetna and growing HealthHub stores

In CVS' Q4 earnings call, it was announced that CVS-Aetna saw significant growth in Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollment in 2019, adding about 563,000 new members, which CEO Larry Merlo said represents a growth rate of over three times the industry average for the year, according to FierceHealthcare.

Three Companies Have Grown To Control Over Two Thirds Of The US Pharmacy Market

Additionally, CVS noted that it opened more than 50 HealthHub concept stores - which dedicate more space to healthcare services and medical equipment than traditional CVS stores - across four markets in 2019 as part of its goal to launch 1,500 HealthHubs by the end of 2021.

CVS-Aetna is doubling down on strengthening its hold in the MA market - and CVS' renewed interest in offering health services could be part of an effort to control the costs for caring for seniors. Following its $70 billion merger with Aetna - the US' third-largest health insurer by membership - in late 2018, CVS has focused on a strategy aimed at offering convenient, comprehensive in-person health services to its customers to limit costs associated with poor health outcomes that the newly formed payer would be on the hook for.

For example, in January, CVS CEO Larry Merlo announced that select Aetna health plan members who use CVS Health services - such as those offered in its HealthHub locations - could look forward to "zero cost" and "low copay" treatment options. And with CVS-Aetna seeking to grow its MA footprint - MA membership is expected to account for 42% of all Medicare beneficiaries by 2028 - it makes sense for CVS to double down on health-centered initiatives to help shore up on high spending related to care for seniors.

CVS Health is setting itself up to be a multifaceted healthcare titan, which should help it ward off competition from e-pharmacy newcomers. CVS Health now controls the third-largest US health insurance company, the second largest pharmacy chain in the US, and the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager, according to data from Open Markets Institute.

Essentially, one company (CVS) is doing business with itself across three fronts: It's the insurance company, the pharmacy dispensing medication to its members, and the middleman responsible for negotiating between the two so that customers get the best rates. This means competing against the multifaceted healthcare giant could be a difficult proposition for less established firms such as Capsule, an e-pharmacy startup which recently bagged $200 million in funding to scale its no-cost, same-day medication delivery service across the US.

And while startups like Capsule could draw customers away from CVS Health given the convenience of its medication delivery service, this could become a more difficult proposition, considering HealthHub stores offer a comprehensive experience where customers can see a provider and receive their prescription from the same location - and CVS Health estimates that its HealthHub stores will cover 80% of what a primary care doctor is capable of treating.

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