Pharmacies Plan to Promote Benefits of Affordable Care Act


CVS Caremark and Walgreens each recently announced plans to inform customers about their options for getting health insurance through exchanges established by the health care reform law.

CVS Caremark and Walgreens each recently announced plans to inform customers about their options for getting health insurance through exchanges established by the health care reform law.

Several major pharmacy chains, including CVS Caremark and Walgreens, have recently announced plans to help educate customers regarding details of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Individuals will be able to start purchasing health insurance through exchanges established by the ACA on October 1, 2013, and the law’s individual mandate, requiring most people to have health insurance, will go into effect on January 1, 2014. However, many remain unaware of how the law will affect them.

The pharmacies anticipate that patients will come to them with questions about the ACA, but also recognize that the millions of people who stand to gain health insurance as a result of its implementation represent an opportunity for increased pharmacy business. “Seventy-five percent of Americans live within 3 miles of a CVS pharmacy, and we serve 5 million people each day in our stores,” Helena Foulkes, executive vice president and chief health care strategy and marketing officer at CVS Caremark, said in an email to Pharmacy Times. “That gives us a tremendous opportunity to help Americans understand the new health care law and how it affects them so they receive the coverage that best fits their families.”

CVS Caremark plans to implement an information and outreach program to help customers access information on how to select an appropriate insurance plan from the health exchanges. This will include in-store events that coincide with ongoing programs offering free cholesterol screenings, glucose testing, and blood pressure measurement, and will be concentrated in areas with higher portions of people without insurance, such as Florida, Texas, California, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and the District of Columbia. The company will also distribute brochures at its more than 7400 stores and 650 MinuteClinic locations and will make information available online at

In addition, CVS may invite “navigators,” who are trained by the government to help patients pick a suitable insurance plan, into their stores to help customers. A navigator or other health insurance expert might be positioned near the pharmacy counter and be available to advise patients in need of insurance. “Most people without insurance today still fill at least 1 prescription during the year, and many are in our stores several times a month,” said Foulkes. “Our pharmacists can spot customers who are paying for medicines with cash and help them find information about insurance available through the exchanges.”

Walgreens, on the other hand, has partnered with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association to launch a campaign to inform customers about their options under the ACA. The keystone of the campaign is a website,, which explains how consumers are affected by the law, provides information on subsidies to purchase insurance, describes the workings of the individual mandate, and offers a primer on how the health exchanges will function. In addition, informational brochures will be distributed at almost all Walgreens pharmacies.

“Walgreens is a trusted community resource for health and wellness information, and through this collaboration we hope the millions of Americans who will be entering the marketplace in October are more informed and better prepared,” said Brad Fluegel, Walgreens senior vice president and chief strategy officer, in a press release. “There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of questions, and it’ll take a tremendous, collaborative effort to make sure people have the information they need to make informed choices.”

The results of a survey of 1078 adults carried out in May 2013 on behalf of CVS Caremark testify to the extent of this confusion. It found that 36% of those likely to get insurance through the health exchanges needed more information to evaluate their options and that just 48% of those eligible for a subsidy to purchase health insurance were aware of their eligibility. Hispanics who have arrived in the country recently and those aged 18 to 35 were more likely to say they needed help understanding the exchanges. In addition, of those surveyed, 68% said they expected retail pharmacies to offer information on health insurance options either in the store or online.

CVS Caremark will make this information available starting October 1, when customers can begin signing up for insurance through the ACA’s marketplaces. “We learned with the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug program that people aren’t interested in finding information until they can take action, so we are prepared to support the increase around open enrollment,” said CVS Caremark’s Foulkes.

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