If you haven’t heard the news about CVS Caremark and Walgreens yet, you’ve either been asleep or back-packing in some remote forest. Bottom line, the honeymoon between Walgreens and CVS Caremark (post-CVS-Caremark-merger three years ago) — is very much over, if there ever was a honeymoon at all.
For those who have been sleeping or camping, here’s the gist: In a Monday, June 7, letter, Walgreens announces it won’t participate in any new and renewed prescription-drug plans awarded to the CVS Caremark pharmacy-benefit manager because of the way its forces chronic patients to use CVS stores, switches plans to differently priced networks without notification and is unpredictable in how it reimburses Walgreens.
That’s followed by CVS Caremark’s Wednesday, June 9, announcement that the PBM will simply remove Walgreens altogether from its network and start transitioning pharmacy care for all its participants who used Walgreens stores to other participating providers. Youch.
A few other statements follow (you can read the testiness of the whole situation between the lines), such as this statement from Kermit Crawford, executive vice president of pharmacy for Walgreens, assuring the public his company’s move was unavoidable and done in such a way as to hurt the least number of participants possible. (If it’s not still at the top of the news site, scroll down; it’s there.)
And then there’s this comment from the National Community Pharmacists Association, siding with Walgreens and condemning the merger altogether. If you want to check other postings out, just Google the two pharmacy chains. This drama has gone viral.
And it won’t end here, says Michael Polzin, a spokesman for Walgreens. In the next 30 days, “millions of Walgreens customers” will be getting letters telling them they have to find other neighborhood pharmacies to get their CVS Caremark PBM drugs. HR and benefits professionals will be impacted when they come running to them for advice, he adds. Polzin hopes they’ll (you’ll) tell them this wasn’t Walgreens’ fault, that it tried to make “a very necessary move as painless as possible by hanging on to all existing PBM customers,” but that CVS has changed the game. In fact, he says, the relationship between Walgreens and the Caremark PBM (pre-merger) was just fine, thank you, but has “become much more competitive with Walgreens in the last three years.”
CVS, on the other hand, says the impact won’t be that significant since only 7,000 of its (now former) Walgreens stores were among its 64,000 participating pharmacies — and that “when Walgreens is included in the CVS Caremark network, 85.9 percent of members have access to a network pharmacy within three miles of their homes” yet that number only changes to 85.7 percent “when Walgreens is excluded.”
A spokesperson from CVS told me late Friday the PBM “did not make this decision lightly, but [has a] responsibility to our clients and their plan members to balance providing consumer access with managing cost and delivering their pharmacy benefit.” Take note of CVS’ earlier announcement above (I call it the Walgreens head-chop), saying Walgreens was simply making a hard-ball move for more money.
I could — very obviously — go on and on. But I won’t. I could also spend some of your valuable time giving you my spin on the words between the lines and the writing on the walls. I’ll let you do that with all of this.
All I can safely say is this fracas is, by no means, over and I can guarantee you a whole lot of employees are going to have a whole lot of questions in a very short time, and you might want to start thinking about what you’re gonna say.