Merlo to shareholders: CVS Caremark well-positioned for future amid changing health care

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS Caremark is on a mission to reinvent pharmacy and help people navigate a path to better health, and with its unique assets and robust team in place, the company is well-positioned to succeed in the midst of today’s changing healthcare environment. That was a key message that Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, had for shareholders during Thursday morning’s Annual Shareholder Meeting.

Merlo with EVP of CVS Caremark and president of CVS/pharmacy Helena Foulkes and company co-founder Stanley Goldstein.

Merlo kicked off the meeting, which was held at the company’s headquarters in Woonsocket, R.I., by providing a 30,000-ft. view of some of its recent key achievements such as the acquisition of Coram, the specialty infusion services and enteral nutrition business unit of Apria Healthcare Group; its joint venture with Cardinal Health to form the largest generic sourcing entity in the United States; and the growing footprint of MinuteClinic locations. And, of course, the company’s recently announced move to stop selling tobacco products in all of its stores by Oct. 1 was a hot topic.

“We see this as the right decision at the right time,” said Merlo, referring to the company’s stance on tobacco products. Merlo said the move aligns with the goals of patients, providers and payers.

The bold decision has received an overwhelmingly positive response from many stakeholders, including several shareholders who voiced their support during Thursday’s gathering.

And, with a solid 2014 PBM season under its belt and strong positioning in the Medicare Part D market and Medicaid space, Merlo expressed further optimism for the future. He also noted the importance of specialty pharmacy and the key role that CVS Caremark is playing in this fast-growing space, which has been enhanced by its new Specialty Connect offering and the acquisition of Coram.

As previously reported, the company’s new Specialty Connect offering is on schedule to roll out in 2014. Analogous to the Maintenance Choice program, Specialty Connect integrates mail and retail capabilities to provide both greater choice and convenience for members.

Touching upon MinuteClinic, Merlo noted that it opened more than 150 locations during 2013, and currently has more than 800 clinics in 28 states and Washington, D.C. MinuteClinic, which has seen more than 20 million patient visits, staffs about 2,400 nurse practitioners and has inked more than 30 affiliations with major health systems.

In light of a growing shortage of primary care physicians sweeping the nation, MinuteClinic continues to work toward its longer-term goal of creating a national platform to support primary care. By 2017, MinuteClinic plans to operate about 1,500 clinics in 35 states.

In responding to a shareholder’s question on the company’s 2013 acquisition of Brazilian retailer Onofre, the eighth-largest drug chain in Brazil, Merlo said the company has several pilots underway that are “going well,” and he sees opportunity for further growth within the highly fragmented market.

Merlo said there also are opportunities for growth in additional international markets, but any growth would be in typical CVS fashion — measured and conservative.

Looking ahead, Merlo talked of CVS Caremark’s ability and agility to respond to the changing healthcare environment. Its ability refers to the “unmatched breadth of assets” and expertise to drive innovation. And its agility is rooted in its nimbleness to respond to those changes.

In summary, Merlo said the company remains optimistic about the growth prospects of the company and believes the changing healthcare environment is creating opportunities.

“Our unique model presents a sustainable competitive advantage,” Merlo said.

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