Health and Science

CVS' Caremark customers now have a tool that makes it easier to find less expensive drugs

Key Points
  • CVS Health is introducing a system to provide customers with greater insight into drug costs and less expensive alternatives.
  • The plan will first be available to those using CVS' pharmacy benefit manager Caremark.
  • Consumers are often frustrated by the difficulty of comparing the cost of treatments.
A CVS Pharmacy store is seen in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 30, 2017.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

CVS Health wants to make it easier for its pharmacists to find less costly drugs for patients.

The drugstore chain is introducing a system that will check for less expensive alternatives, higher quantities at lower costs and discounts. CVS hopes it can help lower costs for its customers and in doing so, make sure they pick up their prescriptions.

Drug costs are rising, and patients are paying more of their health-care bills out of pocket as many shift to high-deductible insurance plans. Often consumers are frustrated by the difficulty of comparing the cost of treatments.

The more expensive the drug, the less likely patients are to pick up their prescriptions, said Kevin Hourican, executive vice president of retail pharmacy.

"We want to be known as the retail pharmacy that does the most to help save patients money," he said. "The power of this tool, the RX Savings Finder, is we have access to the information that we need to be able to provide options to our customers to save them money."

Pharmacists are typically able only to see if drugs are covered and what the out-of-pocket cost would be. With the new system, they'll be able to compare prices and see less expensive but just as effective alternatives, such as generic drugs or therapy.

If they find a different option, pharmacists can call patients to ask if they want to switch then call their doctor to discuss writing a new script.

During the pilot program, CVS found that 95 percent of patients ask to switch when given the opportunity and 85 percent of doctors make the switch. Last year, Caremark gave physicians price-checking technology through their electronic health records.

"(Doctors),, as well as our pharmacy teams, were flying blind before the implementation," Hourican said.

The pharmacy system will initially be available to patients who use CVS' pharmacy benefit manager, Caremark. Hourican said the system should be available with other major payers later this summer.

CVS' unique structure of combing retail with a so-called PBM made it possible to create the system, Hourican said. The company understands how formularies — lists of prescription drugs, both branded and generic, that health insurers deem to be medically effective and covered by insurance plans — are managed and benefits are derived, as well as how medications are classified, he said.

"And we've built the pipes to connect directly into that information to provide it to our colleagues in the store in a very usable way," he said.

CVS is in the process of becoming even more vertically integrated. It's acquiring health insurer Aetna to try to create a health-care powerhouse and lower the cost of care. The deal is expected to close in the second half of the year.