Editor's Note

A Chain Confirms an Important Point about DME Pharmacies

Large chains are making forays into providing "DME pharmacy-like" services, but they ultimately underscore the value of a local, community pharmacy.

David KopfBy now, you likely heard CVS’s plans to transform many of its locations into what it has dubbed HealthHUBs, when it first announced the plan in July 2019. Essentially, the locations are sort of a mix of a pharmacy, a clinic, and a DME provider. A customer can get treatment for common illnesses, meet with nurse practitioners, physician assistants, licensed practical nurses and pharmacists, and pick up DME items.

Yep, in addition to the sorts of retail DME items you can typically find at a chain pharmacy, the HealthHUBs are also supporting patients with obstructive sleep apnea and diabetes, as well as other chronic conditions. Obviously, those first two items are market sweet spots when it comes to providing DME.

The chain pharmacy’s goal is to create 1,500 locations by the end of 2021. The company rolled out 50 HealthHUBs in 2019, and its plan was to cut the ribbon on 600 HealthHUBs this year.

The initiative was launched after CVS and Aetna announced their plans for a merger at the end of 2017. Fast forward to this August, and Aetna announced a plan that would let its members access appointments at its parent company’s HealthHUB locations with no copay and get discounts on items at those CVS locations.

Now, for a community pharmacy that supplies DME, that can sound threatening. Here we have a large retail giant with locations all over the country that has recently acquired a major insurance provider. And these HealthHUBs are offering supplies for two heavily used DME categories that are funded both through private payer insurance as well as Medicare and other public payer sources. I think most people would get a little shiver down the spine from that.

And those concerns seem to be justified – at least when it comes to the Aetna part of the HealthHUB equation. We’ve all heard tales about patient steering, and according to a September survey from the National Community Pharmacists Association, 79 percent of community pharmacists complained that patients’ prescriptions were transferred to another pharmacy in the last six months without their patients’ knowledge or consent. That’s upsetting stuff.

However, I don’t think it should define the HealthHUBs. What I mean by that is, if anything, the move to establish those locations is a confirmation of the local DME pharmacy and community pharmacy’s role in their local marketplace.

These pharmacies are the hub for their communities’ health. They are the source for not only scripts but so much more, and the local community and healthcare partners should be aware of it. A key way to do that is by providing a broad range of products and meeting the marketplace and payers’ policy and procedure expectations. Check out our feature on accreditation (page 4) and pain management (page 12) to get ideas on both of those subjects.

The competition might feel stiff to local and community pharmacies, but it’s also telling them they have the best market position.

This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy December 2020 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher HME Business, DME Pharmacy and Mobility Management magazines. He was Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy from 2008 to 2023. Follow him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/dkopf/ and on Twitter at @postacutenews.