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Retailers respond to COVID-19: CVS Health

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Asking ourselves everyday: What more we can do?

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles on how retailers are responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

This past month — for all Americans — has been unlike any other experienced in our lifetimes. The heroic efforts of health care professionals and others on the front lines of the pandemic have been truly inspiring, but we all have a role to play in slowing and eventually stopping this unprecedented threat.

Larry Merlo

Larry Merlo

At CVS Health, we’re in a unique position to help due to our scale and unique set of capabilities that span the health care continuum. We have an unmatched presence in communities throughout the country, with nearly 10,000 pharmacies that remain open offering essential services while many other businesses have been forced to close. We’re interacting with millions of Americans every day, enabling us to understand where needs lie and how best to address them.

The question we ask ourselves each day is this: What more we can do? This mindset has led us to take several actions focused on helping both our customers and our employees through these incredibly difficult times.

One of the first steps we took as the pandemic began to take shape was waiving charges for home delivery of prescription medications. The more people we can keep out of our stores, the more we can help minimize potential exposure to COVID-19. We also expanded access to 90-day prescriptions and waived early refill limits.

To further encourage people to stay home we increased access to virtual care by waiving telemedicine fees, which has resulted in utilization among Aetna members more than doubling.

Broadening access to testing has also been a central component of our response to the pandemic. We were the first of the major retailers to open a COVID-19 drive-through testing center. Selfless CVS Health nurses, nurse practitioners and pharmacists tested more than 200 people per day at that site, with a focus on local first responders and health care professionals, whose work is more important than ever.

We applied the significant learnings gathered from that pilot site to open three rapid COVID-19 drive-through testing sites in Georgia, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, in collaboration with federal and state officials. Licensed health care providers from MinuteClinic, our retail medical clinic, oversee the testing, which is currently available at no cost to patients. The sites are utilizing the new Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test, which can identify positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in as little as 13 minutes.

For those that do test positive, we’re increasing access to treatment by waiving cost-sharing and co-pays for inpatient hospital admissions related to COVID-19. We want patients to focus on their care and recovery, not their finances.

Through our Omnicare business unit, we’re also helping people recover by working with existing nursing facilities — both our customers and non-customers — to create designated nursing facilities to manage COVID-19-only patients. This approach allows us to use our clinical pharmacy expertise to support these patients, reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 and help people transition from hospital to rehab to home.
None of these initiatives happen without the extraordinary commitment of our nearly 300,000 employees, who are providing essential goods and services at a time when they’re needed most. As they take care of those we serve, we’re taking care of them.

We’re working around the clock to provide protective gear and other safety measures, including protective panels at our pharmacies and front-store checkout stations. In recognition of their commitment, we’re providing cash bonuses to pharmacists and certain other health care professionals on the front lines, store associates and managers, and other site-based hourly employees. And we’ve launched a new offering to help employees with dependent care needs while providing sick leave to part-time employees for the duration of the pandemic.

To provide our employees with much-needed relief, we’re filling 50,000 full-time, part-time and temporary roles across the country. The majority of these roles were open prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but given the circumstances we will now fill many of them with employees of existing clients who have had to furlough their workers.

Rising to meet a challenge, no matter how daunting, is what we are built for. What we’ve seen from our employees and people across the country over the past month gives us all strength and hope. We’re in this together, and we’ll get through this together.

Larry Merlo is president and chief executive officer of CVS Health.


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