CVS, Aetna merger could impact local pharmacies

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The drugstore chain CVS has reached a blockbuster agreement to acquire Aetna, one of the nation's largest health insurers.

The deal still has to pass regulatory scrutiny but CVS expects the deal to save a potential $750 million in the second full-year after it passes. "There will be expanded opportunities to bring health care services to consumers every day", the companies added in a release.

Aetna CEO Mark T. Bertolini echoed Merlo, and said the merger would make the company more "competitive" and help improve healthcare for millions of Americans.

It's unlikely that CVS will really transform itself from a pharmacy company to an integrated health care company, says Martin Gaynor, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University.

Under the terms of the deal, CVS will pay about $207 a share, said this person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the transaction before it was announced.

Merlo said he and Bertolini wanted to create a health-care platform that's "easier to use and less expensive for users".

Michael Newshel, an analyst at Evercore ISI, said Aetna would likely need to divest some or all of its Medicare drug-benefits business in a CVS merger.

Wary of Amazon's much-rumored move into the pharmacy industry, the leaders of CVS and Aetna have met several times this year, conversations that eventually led to deal negotiations.

The deal comes as healthcare payers and pharmacies are responding to a shifting landscape, including changes in the Affordable Care Act, rising drug prices and the threat of competition from online retailers such as Amazon.com (amzn).

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McLemore is skeptical the merger will lead to lower drug prices, as CVS suggests. The company might open more clinics or add services such as eye care or hearing aid centers.

That doesn't mean there's heightened hostility toward vertical deals at the Justice Department, but CVS might prefer the Aetna deal to go to the FTC given Delrahim's criticism of behavioral fixes, said David Kully, an antitrust lawyer at Holland & Knight in Washington and a former Justice Department attorney.

Independent PBMs have always been criticized for potential conflicts of interest with insurance company clients, because they could potentially keep cost savings from drug negotiations rather than passing them on to patients.

Large corporate customers of Aetna are taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding the impact on costs, benefits experts have said.

Leerink analyst Ana Gupte reportedly told CNBC last week that Humana and Walmart have been in a tight relationship for six or seven years, according to U.S. News.

He says the obvious motivation behind the merger is that CVS and Aetna can save money on prescription drugs by simplifying the complicated way medications are paid for, and eliminating one middlemen looking to make a profit. "In fact, it's more than just a step to go from where they are to becoming a health care hub".

CVS Health's plan to buy Aetna Inc. for $69 billion would rank among the top 15 priciest merger and acquisition deals ever completed in the United States.

Pharmacies already provide vaccinations and blood pressure checks.

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