CVS Health is partnering with UnitedHealth's pharmacy benefit manager business OptumRx in a move that helps the retailer compete with rival drugstore chain Walgreens, which struck a similar deal with OptumRx earlier in the year.
Through the partnership, employers and employees that contract with OptumRx for PBM services will be able to fill 90-day prescriptions at CVS retail pharmacies for prices on par home delivery copays, starting July 1.
CVS said Wednesday that the partnership will combine its retail division's health and wellness capabilities with OptumRx's pharmacy and clinical expertise to improve outcomes and reduce costs for patients.
OptumRx formed a similar deal with Walgreens in March. CVS said during a conference call with investors this month that it didn't expect the Walgreens-OptumRx deal to have a major impact on CVS' business. However, CVS said it expects to lose 40 million prescriptions in 2017 from Walgreens and others' restricted pharmacy networks that prevent members from filling any prescriptions at CVS pharmacies.
For example, the nation's largest PBM, Express Scripts, in October ousted CVS in favor of Walgreens for its Tricare pharmacy network that serves 9.4 million beneficiaries.
Partnering with OptumRx as a preferred pharmacy helps CVS drive more customers to its stores and make up some of that lost profitability, Adam Fein, president of Pembroke Consulting and pharmaceutical industry expert, said in a Wednesday blog post.
“It's a logical quick fix that sacrifices some retail per-prescription profitability to gain scale,” Fein said. “Expect similar moves as CVS works to shore up its retail pharmacy business.”