“View from the Top”: Merlo Offers Perspective on U.S. Health Care and the Opioid Crisis

In May 2017, CVS Health Chief Executive Officer Larry Merlo was interviewed on  NPR’s Here and Now program. There, he offered his thoughts on health care reform, the role of the private sector in improving health care delivery and the nation’s opioid abuse crisis.

Promoting Access to Affordable, Quality Health Care

Throughout the interview, Merlo stressed the importance of making health care more affordable and effective for all Americans, while enabling the private sector to advance market competition and innovation.

“Health care spending is increasing too fast: nearly $1 out of every $5 in the country goes toward health care, so clearly there are things that aren't working in our delivery system,” he noted.

Listen to the NPR interview featuring Larry Merlo.

Merlo explained that this challenge requires addressing the three major variables that contribute to health care spending: quality, access and cost.

Embracing Transformational Change, Purpose-Driven Values

The discussion turned to the company’s landmark 2014 decision to become the first national pharmacy retailer to stop selling tobacco products.

“As we were growing, particularly as a health care company, we saw the contradiction between delivering health care in the back of the store at the pharmacy, and at the same time selling tobacco products that are a leading cause of death,” Merlo said.

This resulted in new opportunities to partner with health plans, hospital systems, and other institutions that enabled the business to expand in ways that promote better health.

CVS Health continues its commitment to help people lead tobacco-free lives. In 2016, the company launched Be The First, a five-year, $50 million initiative to help deliver the first tobacco-free generation through education, tobacco-control advocacy and healthy behavior programming.

Addressing the Opioid Crisis and Preventing Misuse and Abuse

Merlo also emphasized CVS Health’s concern about the opioid crisis in the U.S., noting that it is “an epidemic that does not discriminate,” and that it “exists in our cities, in the suburbs, and across rural America.”

There is no single cause to the problem, Merlo noted, and no single remedy.

“The solution is going to require a multi-pronged effort involving many of the health care players whether it’s pharmacy or physicians, the pharmaceutical industry, insurers and certainly the government,” he said. 

Under Merlo’s leadership, CVS Health is deeply committed to being part of this solution, and has developed a number of programs designed to prevent and deter opioid abuse, including:

Merlo described the tools CVS Health pharmacists use to monitor safe prescription use. These tools help ensure that patients receive the right therapies and medications for their conditions in the correct amounts. He also explained that the company is working with regulators to evaluate prescription amounts for first-time users of pain medications as a strategy to reduce overages and limit misuse.

While the challenges facing the nation’s health care system may seem daunting, Merlo said that CVS Health’s focus "continues to be on putting our patients first and providing them with convenient access to affordable, accessible care.”

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