AllianceRx Walgreens Prime Seeks to Revolutionize Specialty Pharmacy Care

First of its kind pharmacy aligns a pharmacy benefit manager and a retail giant.

In August 2016, Prime Therapeutics, a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) owned by Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, joined with Walgreens to create a strategic alliance with a goal of improving patient care and reducing costs. The alliance consisted of 2 separate agreements. The first part was a retail pharmacy network agreement that went into effect January 1, 2017 and is already seeing great success as nearly 50% of Prime’s clients now have a network option, in which Walgreens is the anchor pharmacy. The second part of the agreement was the combination of both Walgreens’ and Prime’s central specialty pharmacy and mail service businesses.

In early April, the companies announced the creation of AllianceRx Walgreens Prime as the new company that completes the second part of the agreement. Alliance Rx Walgreens Prime will be jointly owned by both Prime and Walgreens.

Joel Wright, CEO of Alliance Rx Walgreens Prime, told Specialty Pharmacy Times how the first of its kind pharmacy—which aligns mail service and specialty pharmacy, with a PBM, plus health plans, and a retail giant—could change specialty care.

SPT: How will the creation of AllianceRx Walgreens Prime benefit patients?

Wright: We are excited to bring together the scale and clinical programs and be able to leverage purchasing to lower health care costs to get a full view of patients’ therapies and to have the ability to really measure outcomes all the way across that patient’s health care spend. From the medical benefit through the pharmacy benefit, we can see how our clinical programs are actually lowering overall health care costs. I think it’s a really powerful statement in the way the 2 companies have come together. The scale side of it should allow us to leverage purchasing capabilities that come from the Walgreens side and drive lower health care costs directly in a specialty and mail-order prescription side.

SPT: What can AllianceRx Walgreens Prime offer patients that sets it apart from other specialty and mail service pharmacies?

Wright: Being connected to the health plan, as well as with the Prime PBM and the capabilities they bring from a clinical and programmatic standpoint, and add in our mail services and specialty pharmacy business with its link into retail, it is a more holistic model than what I think you see out there in the market. That is why it is going to be disruptive; it’s an opportunity for us to really go in and change the way some of these things work in the industry. What makes it special is that partnership ties all the way through, which is why I think the AllianceRx name is so fitting because it really is the companies working together to do something different and to do something big.

SPT: How does Alliance Rx Walgreens Prime leverage both companies’ strengths to improve the patient experience?

Wright: When you look at Prime Therapeutics’ strengths, they’ve got a very strong reputation on the PBM side around some of their clinical programs. Even their customer service—the way that they serve the Blues and their clients, and that relationship as strong as it is—is something that we’re going to be able to leverage as the AllianceRx Walgreens Prime pharmacy. From the Walgreens side, we bring in the benefit of the scale and purchasing, as well as some of the clinical programs and access to limited distribution products that will bring us into the market on day 1 as a leader in the rare and orphan drug space.

SPT: How can this new pharmacy decrease costs for patients, while also improving care?

Wright: I’ve spoken a little bit about leveraging the purchasing power and being able to drive direct improvements on costs. That’s a great opportunity, but just as significant is our ability to affect overall medical spend by reaching across both benefits. As we improve patient adherence through our clinical programs and are able to drive better outcomes, we can do things like reduce emergency room visits, reduce patients’ disease progression, and be able to feed that information back through Prime to Blue partners that will give us the ability to measure outcomes in a very holistic manner that we haven’t traditionally had. This ability to really drive improvements on immediate costs — not just the pharmacy spend — but also to drive improvements in the overall health care costs for that patient is what really becomes powerful.

SPT: What should patients know about this new pharmacy?

Wright: Patients should know that we’re going to take the best out of both [Walgreens and Prime] companies— and bring it together and seamlessly integrate and transition— so that they shouldn’t have any disruption. It will be very smooth and we’re going to communicate throughout the process. Today, they’re still going to see the brands they’re used to. When we transition and launch the AllianceRx Walgreens Prime brand in the coming months, they’re going to see new materials, new labels on prescription bottles, things like that. We’re going to be very open and communicate upfront about that. The fact that we pulled both Walgreens and Prime names into the new company’s name and logo will help patients feel comfortable that this is an evolution of the great service from 2 companies they are used to working with into something even bigger.

SPT: What is the most exciting aspect of AllianceRx Walgreens Prime?

Wright: All of us at AllianceRx Walgreens Prime are really excited about the opportunities that are in front of us and the ability to work with two really strong parent companies, and the Blues as a primary client is really critical to how we show up. I think we have the opportunity to win very significantly. You’ve already seen that in the recent announcements in the Federal Employee Program, as well as Regence health plans out in the Northwest. This is going to resonate very strongly with the payers out there, and I think our ability to really grow rapidly is what I am most excited about.