How CVS buying Aetna could affect you

Local pharmacist says it may be quicker to get meds, but mergers will impact choice

CVS pharmacy

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Drugstore company CVS’ purchase of Aetna, one of the largest insurance agencies in the country, could set a new model for streamlined health care, a West Michigan pharmacist says.

Speaking to CNBC Monday, CVS Caremark President & CEO Larry Merlo said bringing the companies together will “create a new health care platform that can be easier to use and less expensive for consumers and really create a new front door to health care in our country.”

Mike Koelzer, the owner of Kay Pharmacy in Grand Rapids, said the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries have been intertwined for years. He’s not fazed by the about $69 billion deal between CVS and Aetna and thinks there may be similar moves in the future.

Instead of going to the doctor’s office when you have a cold, why not go straight to the pharmacy where you’ll need to pick up your medication anyway?

“(Customers are) frustrated at the hours they spent somewhere and then the hours waiting for this and then that and so it’s a hassle,” Koelzer said.

Koelzer says CVS’s acquisition of Aetna is in line with how the industry has been evolving for years, pointing to shorter doctor’s office visits due to a shortage in primary care physicians. But while more one-stop shops may speed things up, Koelzer says mergers may limit consumers’ choices and affect customer service.

“Somebody insured by this company will open up a letter one day and it’ll say, ‘You’re no longer going to this pharmacy, you’re going to start going to this pharmacy,'” Koelzer said. “How much is that company trying to be nice to me to gain my business? If they already have your business, if they know you’re going to be coming through that door and you’re forced to come through that door, it changes.”

Local pharmacies have always contended with the knowledge that larger companies could run them out of business — and mergers like this would only reinforce that. But Koelzer says he’s not worried about it.

Service and competition aside, what about lowering the costs of prescription drugs? That, Koelzer says, is uncertain.

“They can say what they want about lowering the price, but they’re setting that price based on what their direct competition is,” he said.

He also noted that patients will still have to seek a higher level of care for more serious medical needs.