CVS Health CEO: Pharmacies can help reduce prescription drug costs

By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
STAFF WRITER

ADA — Pharmacies can play a role in decreasing prescription drug costs while improving quality and access, CVS Health President and CEO Larry Merlo said Thursday at Ohio Northern University.

He delivered the 2017 Sebok Pharmacy Lecture, titled “Driving More Affordable, Accessible and Effective Care.”

Health care spending is increasing faster than the overall economy, Merlo said.

Non-generic drugs are the cause of rising spending on prescriptions, he said. Most prescriptions — 88 percent — are for generic medications, but they account for just 28 percent of prescription costs.

“You’ve all seen the headlines … over the past year about the steep price increases on branded drugs, examples like EpiPen,” Merlo said.

Mylan, the manufacturer of EpiPen, raised the price to $600 last year for the injection used to reverse severe low blood pressure, wheezing, severe skin itching, hives, and other symptoms of an allergic reaction.

In response, Merlo said, CVS negotiated with the manufacturer of a generic version and sells that for $110.

Pharmacies can also work to make specialty medications cheaper, such as by administering infusion drugs at pharmacies or in patients’ homes.

As for quality, care could be improved if more patients took their medication properly, Merlo said. About half of Americans have chronic diseases, but many are not responding to them the way they should.

“Medication non-adherence, it’s an epidemic in this country,” he said.

About half of patients don’t take their medication as prescribed, which causes $290 billion per year in avoidable costs, Merlo said. And up to one-third of all prescriptions that are written don’t get filled.

CVS has a “pharmacy adviser” program in which pharmacists counsel patients to help them stay on their medications and take them properly.

Preventative measures and healthier lifestyles can help people avoid some chronic diseases, Merlo said. CVS stopped selling tobacco products in 2014 for that reason.

“We all know that tobacco is a leading preventative cause of disease and death in the U.S.,” Merlo said.

He congratulated ONU on having a tobacco-free campus, and presented the College of Pharmacy with a $50,000 corporate grant to support ONU’s HealthWise mobile clinic. The clinic includes a smoking cessation program and other outreach for Hardin County.

Merlo also said a health care access problem is being created by what is sometimes called the “silver tsunami” — a wave of people aging into Medicare, along with a shortage of doctors.

“The question becomes, where will all of these patients go for care?” he said. That question will remain regardless of what happens to the Affordable Care Act, he said.

This problem can be addressed with the “retailization” of health care, Merlo said.

“Retail pharmacy is oftentimes the front door to health care,” he said. “It provides more opportunities to interact with patients than any other site of care.”

Pharmacists will take on more responsibilities and pharmacies will offer more types of care, Merlo predicted. CVS is testing audiology centers in Dallas, Texas, and optical centers in Cleveland and near Baltimore, Maryland.

Pharmacies could become a “one-stop shop” for non-emergency health services, he said.

The annual Sebok Pharmacy Lecture is named for Albert Sebok, who received a pharmacy degree from ONU in 1953 and went on to become a senior vice president for Revco Discount Drug Stores.

Rubright: 419-427-8417
Send an E-mail to Kathryne Rubright
Twitter: @kerubright



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