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U.S. The operator of pharmacy chain CVS Health Corp said on Sunday that it had agreed to acquire US health insurer Aetna Inc for $ 69 billion, seeking to address the rising cost of health through low-cost medical services in pharmacies.
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CVS Health will acquire Aetna for $ 69 billion. (Photo: CVS Health Corp)

Chances are your next trip to get treatment for a non-fatal condition could take you to the pharmacy.

CVS Health's $ 69,000 million agreement to acquire insurer Aetna could reshape basic health care while the combined company seeks to boost its prescription drug business while driving clients away from costly emergency room visits to Affordable medical care in the pharmacy.

If the agreement is developed as planned, the CVS store of the future will not look much like the one you remember, when c andy bars, trinkets, toothpaste and makeup dominated the corridors.

In contrast, CVS, after having added healthier foods and banned the sale of cigarettes in recent years, is rolling to become a one stop shop for basic medical services.

a mbadive physical footprint of more than 9,700 locations at a time when real estate costs are an anchor for many traditional retailers, CVS hopes to re-establish itself as a first and second retail health care provider.

More: CVS buys Aetna in an agreement valued at $ 69 billion

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"Think of a Genius Bar on Apple, for example, this ability to go into the store and get help, this is the kind of idea we want to create in stores, "Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said in a conference call.

In a sense, it is a movement driven by fear of the future. CVS aims to shore up its business as it faces the possibility that Amazon online can sell prescription drugs. Recently, the company also announced plans to offer delivery the next day in a move widely seen as a preemptive strike on Amazon.

"Together we plan to build completely new health" The concept of care is based on making care easier to use and more affordable, while offering consumers the possibility of interacting with familiar health care experts and trusted in their communities across the country, "said Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS. [19659008] In addition, the country's leading pharmacy chain is trying to get a larger share of health care spending and reduce costs by combining insurance of 22 million Aetna affiliates with its pharmaceutical benefits management.

Executives said that c would lead to lower drug costs for consumers, but experts and watchdogs are skeptical.

"I would be very cautious by taking those kinds of statements to the letter because every merger or acquisition announcement I've made makes exactly the same claims. " said Eliot Fishman, senior director for policy at Families USA, a non-profit organization that advocates for consumer access to high-quality health care.

The agreement, he said, does not address the fundamental factor of high drug prices, which blamed the pharmaceutical companies.

Undoubtedly, there is still a great uncertainty about how the agreement for consumers will be developed. But this is what we know now:

Quick-Stop Health Care is at .

CVS plans to strengthen its MinuteClinic, which currently provides nurse-practitioner treatment for minor conditions.

That is likely to involve reconfiguring a significant portion of CVS in approximately 9,700 locations to add more services. The company plans to experiment in some places by providing blood tests, offering advice from nutritionists and providing services that require "durable medical equipment," Merlo said.

MinuteClinic "is not making money now", but the chain wants to expand the service to reinforce pedestrian traffic "in stores, not only for recipes, but also for wider front-end products," said Joseph Agnese, a CFRA Research stock badyst who tracks CVS for the independent research firm.

customers can still fill prescriptions elsewhere. At least for now .

The agreement is not expected to have an immediate impact on where Aetna policyholders can fill prescriptions.

But in the long run, CVS could modify insurance terms to get more patients to fill prescriptions through their stores or through the mail.

"What Aetna customers can see at the beginning are more plans designed to take them to CVS not only for their prescription drugs, either by mail or in the store, but also for their medical care," said Marianne Udow. Phillips, executive director of the Center for Health Care Research and Transformation at the University of Michigan,

Your health care costs may decrease.

The CEOs of CVS and Aetna pledged to use the combined power of their companies to reduce healthcare costs. They said their involvement will help them use technology to better badyze the data to help patients meet their treatment plans and cut unnecessary expenses.

Companies expect to reduce patient visits to emergency rooms for conditions that are not serious. They also hope to reduce the instances in which recently hospitalized patients are readmitted to treat the same conditions.

"Not only will we improve affordability and quality, but we will eliminate the unnecessary complexities that frustrate today's consumers," Bertolini said. [19659008] But pharmaceutical companies will not lose much pricing power.

Although CVS hopes to better control the costs of prescription drugs after the agreement, experts said that pharmaceutical companies retain significant pricing power, in part protections.

Matching an insurance giant, Aetna, with a pharmacy benefits manager, CVS Caremark division, could have a greater influence on the drug price negotiation game.

But Udow-Phillips and Fishman said there is no evidence that the combination of insurance companies with pharmaceutical benefit managers, known as PBMs, leads to lower costs.

Maybe I do not buy drugs from Amazon. nytime soon.

If Amazon wants to start selling prescription drugs, as widely rumored, the way to market became a bit more difficult.

If CVS plays hard and refuses to allow Aetna to extend insurance coverage to drugs purchased through Amazon, it could be a difficult pill to swallow for the online giant as it enters a complex and highly regulated market .

Follow USA TODAY journalist Nathan Bomey on Twitter @ NathanBomey . [19659008]

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