The federal government's approval of the CVS-Aetna merger has vast implications for health care in the U.S. It could also have a direct impact on retirees, the most immediate being that Aetna must sell its Medicare Part D prescription drug plans to WellCare Health Plans. CVS already has the largest market share of Medicare Part D prescription drug plans through SilverScript, which is operated by CVS Caremark.
So what does this really mean for retirees? In the short term, if you have a Medicare Part D plan through SilverScript, nothing changes, but if you have a Medicare Part D plan through Aetna, it will be transferred to WellCare Health. Longer term, the merger of the nation's leading retail pharmacy with one of the nation's largest health insurers is a major development in the health insurance industry. According to Washington Post journalist Brian Fung, “The tie-up will allow CVS -- whose retail pharmacy business serves 5 million customers a day -- to turn more of its brick-and-mortar locations into front-line clinics for basic medical services and patient monitoring. By deepening its knowledge of and relationships with patients, CVS has said the combination could help Americans stick with medication regimens and stay out of the hospital."
The advocacy group Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, is skeptical about the merger. A statement issued by its senior policy counsel, George, Slover, reads in part, "This type of consolidation in a market already dominated by a few, powerful players, presents the very real possibility of reduced competition that harms consumer choice and quality. We are concerned that the limited conditions the Department of Justice put on this deal simply are not enough to ensure that CVS-Aetna doesn’t use its outsized resources in ways that stifle true competition and reduce choice at all levels up and down the chain – ultimately leaving consumers with fewer options and higher costs.”
The merger sheds light on the connection between prescription drug providers and insurance companies. OptumRx, for example, is owned by UnitedHealth Group, and Anthem, a Blue Cross operator with a presence in a number of states, plans to open its own pharmacy. Industry watchers are also keeping an eye on the e-commerce giant, Amazon, which has acquired prescription drug provider PillPack.
The CVS-Aetna merger is expected to be finalized before the end of 2018.