CVS launches new telehealth service on smartphones

CVS Health is rolling out MinuteClinic Video Visits, a new telehealth service that provides patients with minor illnesses and injuries access to healthcare services at any time from their mobile device.

The announcement comes as the healthcare system gains more momentum toward boosting telehealth. Last month, the FCC announced a $100 million telehealth care pilot aimed at connecting rural and low-income Americans with healthcare services. Around the same time, CMS proposed paying for virtual care in the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule in 2019.

The initiative works through Teladoc, a publicly-traded virtual care company, and patients can access receive telehealth care through a video visit through the CVS Pharmacy app. The cost of a visit? $59, payable by credit or debit care, though insurance coverage will be added “in the coming months,” according to CVS.

“We’re excited to be able to bring this innovative care option to patients,” Troyen A. Brennan, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer of CVS Health, said in a statement. “At CVS Health, we’re committed to delivering high-quality care when and where our patients need it and at prices they can afford. Through this new telehealth offering, patients now have an additional option for seeking care that is even more convenient for them.”

CVS has been researching telehealth for a few years, according to the company. In a testing phase, CVS found that 95 percent of patients who opted to receive a telehealth visit were highly satisfied with the quality of care they received, and 96 percent were satisfied with the convenience of using telehealth and the overall experience.

During a visit, a provider will assess a patient’s condition and determine treatment actions. Providers can submit prescriptions as part of their treatment plan to the patient’s preferred pharmacy and make recommendations for follow-up care or testing in the community, such as a nearby MinuteClinic. CVS has more than 9,800 retail locations, 1,100 walk-in medical clinics, and approximately 94 million plan members through its pharmacy benefits manager business.

Currently, the service is available in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Virginia and Washington, D.C., and CVS expects it will be nationwide (where allowed) by the end of 2018.

The new initiative also comes as CVS Health is working through an acquisition of health insurance company Aetna for $69 billion. Recently, a California Insurance Commissioner urged the U.S. Department of Justice to sue to block the merger, citing anti-competitive issues.

CVS expects the deal to close in the third or fourth quarter of 2018, pending regulatory approval, the company stated in its second quarter earnings, which were released Wednesday. The deal was approved by shareholders of both companies on March 13, 2018.

For the quarter, CVS reported a 2.2 percent increase in net revenues, or $1 billion, to approximately $46.7 billion. However, the company reported consolidated operating loss of $1.6 billion for the quarter. The loss was largely a result of long-term care goodwill impairment charge of $3.9 billion and $39 million in transaction and integration costs related to the Aetna transaction.

CVS’s long-term care (LTC) business, Omnicare, which operates in skilled nursing facilities, was plagued with challenges, including lower client retention rates, lower occupancy rates in SNFs, deteriorating financial health of SNF customers and facility reimbursement pressures. The difficulties were heavier than originally estimated, resulting in the $3.9 billion goodwill impairment charge.