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Drug chains pursue fix for primary care

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Physician-administered primary care is shaping up as the next big battleground for pharmacy operators, insurers and other providers that want to revamp the nation’s health care system and, in the process, address chronic problems of access, quality and cost. Recent remarks by the leaders of CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance portend the approaching fight over what is sure to be hotly contested turf.

Karen Lynch, CEO of CVS Health, made no bones about the pivotal role of primary care doctors during a conference call to discuss the company’s quarterly results. After noting that CVS earlier this year rolled out the first national virtual primary care program, consisting of an online network of physicians supported by face-to-face care at MinuteClinic locations, she talked about the disproportionate impact that primary care has on the overall system.

“Primary care is a small component of overall medical costs, but it wields significant influence on the total medical cost picture,” Lynch explained. “So as you think about us managing and navigating care for our patients, we really believe that we need to kind of push into the primary care so that we can influence the overall cost of care.”

Roz Brewer, WBA’s CEO, is equally vehement about primary care.  WBA last month made a $5.2 billion investment in VillageMD, raising its holdings in the clinical care provider to 63%. The deal will speed the opening of some 600 Village Medical at Walgreens locations by 2025, and 1,000 by 2027.

“The best health care is deeply rooted in local communities, and Walgreens is committed to expanding convenient access to high-quality and affordable health care services to our patients and customers in our neighborhood locations,” Brewer said at the time the transaction was announced.

VillageMD chairman and CEO Tim Barry added, “Over the past two and a half years, we have worked side by side with Walgreens to create an integrated primary care and pharmacy model that accomplishes one primary goal: better patient care. WBA’s investment supports our ongoing commitment to providing the highest-quality health care to all patients, including many people who don’t currently have convenient access to a primary care provider.”

There is a lot at stake in how primary care is delivered: If done right, for patients it can lead to ease of access and better outcomes; for the overall health care system, it can lead to lower costs; and for the companies involved, it can serve as an essential building block in constructing a comprehensive health care ecosystem. With so much on the line, the quest for supremacy in primary care deserves close scrutiny.


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