Walgreens health plans? It's the right next step

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — It's a strategic next step in retail pharmacy, a setting that has fast evolved as the intrinsic destination for all health-related matters: health advice, self-care solutions, medication therapy management, compliance programs, acute-care services and now, if the reports turn out to be accurate, branded healthcare insurance. And by the time this offering would be available in 2014, the need for affordable healthcare insurance may go well beyond the 48.6 million uninsured that exist today.

(THE NEWS: Report: Walgreens to offer private health insurance plans this fall. For the full story, click here)

That need may encompass some 5 million 65- and 66-year-old seniors, all traditionally heavier utilizers of healthcare services, who won't be eligible for Medicare coverage until they turn 67 years old. Raising the age of Medicare eligibility is one of several major deficit-reduction and entitlement reform proposals to improve Medicare’s solvency and help realize as much as $5.7 billion in federal net savings, according to Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

According to CNNMoney's report, TripleTree, an investment banking firm focused on the healthcare and technology market, estimates that from 2014 through 2019 as many as 36 million consumers will buy their health insurance from exchanges, such as the one Walgreens allegedly is developing.

According to Kaiser, among those 5 million affected seniors, about 2-in-3 would pay an average of $2,200 more for their health care in 2014 than they would have paid if covered under Medicare. "Raising Medicare’s age of eligibility would obviously reduce Medicare spending, but would also shift costs onto seniors and employers, and increase costs elsewhere on the federal ledger," stated Kaiser VP Tricia Neuman, who leads a new Kaiser Project on Medicare’s Future. "This analysis drives home the tough policy choices that lie ahead when Washington gets serious about reducing the federal deficit."

If Walgreens does incorporate healthcare insurance into their bevy of healthcare offerings, they will be pitching quite the impressive healthcare portfolio to their patients, especially given recent events. "With the acquisition [of Drugstore.com], we strengthen our position as the most convenient, multichannel provider of health and daily living, giving our customers more ways to connect and buy our wide range of products and services," Walgreens' CEO, president and director Gregory Wasson told analysts in June. "[In addition,] we developed collaborations with a number of hospitals and health systems designed to improve patient care, provide greater access to important pharmacy and healthcare services and lower costs. These collaborative relationships demonstrate how Walgreens pharmacists, nurse practitioners and other professionals are integrating our services and solutions into the healthcare systems within our communities for our patients' and customers' benefit."

In other words, Walgreens is fast crafting its network of services — more than 7,700 retail pharmacies and the network of Take Care Clinics across both employer sites and in stores, with easy accessibility to those services through the Internet and mobile devices — into a one-stop shop for all possible health-related needs.

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