America's Largest Drug Store Is Buying Aetna For $67.5 Billion


CVS Health's plan to buy Aetna Inc. for $69 billion would rank among the top 15 priciest merger and acquisition deals ever completed in the United States.

So far, they are taking a "wait-and-see attitude as to whether there is a direct favorable impact on their pricing" of a CVS-Aetna combination, said Jim Winkler, senior vice president for health at Aon, part of Aon Plc AON.N .

But it's not entirely clear if or how quickly savings would get passed down to consumers.

He says the obvious motivation behind the merger is that CVS and Aetna can save money on prescription drugs by simplifying the complicated way medications are paid for, and eliminating one middlemen looking to make a profit. "It's the overall outcome for the patient", Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini told Reuters in an interview. The merged company will also be better able to offer employers one stop for their health insurance. Customers could see benefits down the road, however, if CVS turns some storefronts into clinics or primary care centers.

CVS has existing partnerships with UnitedHealth's OptumRx and is planning to create a new pharmacy benefits management company with insurer Anthem called IngenioRx.

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CVS is the No. 2 USA provider of prescription drug benefits and competes with larger rival Express Scripts Holding Co ESRX.O .

"I think over time you're going to see less of that front-store retail and more health care services in their stores", said Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager for Gabelli Funds who follows drugstores.

The prospects for the deal are uncertain, since mergers involving health insurance companies have recentlyrun into regulatory roadblocks. Both deals were called off in February after they were blocked by federal judges citing antitrust concerns.

The deal comes as healthcare payers and pharmacies are responding to a shifting landscape, including changes in the Affordable Care Act, rising drug prices and the threat of competition from online retailers such as (amzn).

The deal comes after Aetna's $37 billion plan to acquire smaller USA health insurance peer Humana (hum) was blocked in January by a US federal judge over antitrust concerns. The latter two were deals in which one major health insurer sought to buy another.

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Pharmacies already provide vaccinations and blood pressure checks.

Americans could benefit from the planned merger of the health insurance provider Aetna and CVS, but some health care analysts caution that one unintended effect could be a race toward greater consolidation in the industry, which could have as-yet-unknown impacts on access and cost of care.

Nationally, the CVS-Aetna deal, if completed, would rank somewhere between the 13th and 15th priciest deal of all time, depending on whether two other recently announced deals are ultimately finalized.

The ultimate goal, after all, is a land grab.

So if CVS-Aetna gets the green light from Washington, the way Americans get medical advice may drastically change over the next few years. CVS would rather become the preeminent place for all health care needs before Walgreens, Walmart or Amazon beats them to the punch.

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The idea, they say, is to make CVS more of a one-stop healthcare hub for drugs, insurance, and even treatment.