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CVS pilots mental health services in some stores, sees Covid vaccinations slow

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As CVS Health charts out its new clinical strategy, the pharmacy chain is adding behavioral health services to some of its in-store clinics. After launching a pilot in January, the company has seen promising results, CEO Karen Lynch told investors on Tuesday.

The company initially started by offering visits with a licensed social worker at 16 of its MinuteClinics. It plans to expand that to 34 locations across New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas by July.

Part of the plan is to offer weekend and evening visits, making appointments easier to access. So far, people who participated in the pilot have been coming in for up to three visits per month, Lynch said.

“So clearly, there is a need to make those connections,” she said. “It is a differentiator for us and something that I believe is important as you think about mental health and physical health combining to take care of the holistic person and then meeting them where they want to be met.”

So far, most people in the pilot are paying for therapy visits through their insurance, although CVS does expect to see more people using cash pay, as with its other MinuteClinic services.

“Over time, we do expect to grow the sort of D2C fee-for-service business because we do recognize that is a large part of the market, and we expect to launch that next month,” Neela Montgomery, CVS’ president of pharmacy and retail, said in an investor call.

The pilot is part of a broader strategy by CVS Health to build out stores that have more space dedicated to health services, including labs and exam rooms, and focus more on health products and medical equipment in the front of the store. To date, CVS has built about 800 of these HealthHUBs, and expects to have 1,000 by the end of the year — down from its initial goal of 1,500 locations by 2021. 

After acquiring Aetna, the company is also testing insurance plans built around its MinuteClinics. Next year, the insurer plans to offer these co-branded plans as it reenters the ACA marketplace in eight states, though it hasn’t yet disclosed where.

Vaccinations wane
Demand for Covid-19 vaccines, tests and prescriptions drove CVS Health’s earnings above previous estimates. The pharmacy chain brought in revenues of $69.1 billion in the first quarter of 2021, up 3.5% compared to last year, and the company brought in $2.2 billion in profits, up 10% from the same period in 2020.

But after ramping up to be able to vaccinate people as quickly as possible, CVS — and others —  are starting to see demand wane. CFO Eva Boratto said the company had recently seen a drop-off of around 30%, though the company is still factoring a potential pediatric vaccine into its guidance for the rest of the year.

Both CVS and Walgreens were tapped by the federal government to distribute vaccines in long-term care facilities, and were later allocated doses as part of the broader rollout to the general public. But they also accounted for the majority of wasted doses, according to a recent report by Kaiser Health News.

As of Wednesday, 57% of all adults in the U.S. have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC. The U.S. is currently administering about 2.1 million shots per day, a decrease from when vaccinations peaked in mid-April.

Photo credit: CVS Health

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