Rite Aid's $2-billion acquisition of a pharmacy benefits manager steers the drugstore chain toward a potentially lucrative focus for healthcare companies: finding ways to tame customer costs.
The nation's third-largest drugstore chain is buying EnvisionRx which, like all pharmacy benefit managers, can exercise considerable influence over how much patients pay for their medications.
PBMs run prescription drug plans for customers that include employers and insurers. They negotiate prices with drug makers, process mail-order prescriptions and try to keep tabs on whether patients are taking their medicine in an attempt to keep costs down for their customers.
Healthcare expenses have been a top concern for years for insurers and employers who provide coverage for their workers. They've also become a growing headache for patients who have seen their insurance coverage shrink, leaving them with a bigger share of the bill at places like drugstore pharmacies.
That broad concern over cost is helping to reshape how Rite Aid serves its customers, Chairman and Chief Executive John Standley said after his company announced its acquisition Wednesday.
Camp Hill, Pa.-based Rite Aid Corp., which sold its previous PBM operation in 2001, will reenter a market brimming with competition, including Express Scripts Holding Co., which serves about 85 million people, and rival drugstore operator CVS Health Corp.
But Standley said the combination with EnvisionRx, which serves 21 million people, will help his company carve its own, sizable share of that market. He said Rite Aid can help the PBM get better prices for drugs, and the companies will combine strong programs aimed at helping people stick to their prescriptions.
"That is the best way to drive down healthcare costs," Standley said.
EnvisionRx also will help Rite Aid fill more prescriptions for specialty drugs, complex and expensive medicines that are becoming a growing source of revenue for drugstore chains and pharmacy benefit managers.
EnvisionRx, based in Twinsburg, Ohio, also brings to the deal a Medicare prescription drug plan that covers 400,000 people. Medicare drug coverage is growing as more members of the baby boom generation become eligible for the plans, which cover people over 65.
Standley said Rite Aid drugstores have been excluded from the preferred networks of many Medicare plans. That means customers would have to make higher co-payments if they filled prescriptions at Rite Aid pharmacies. With this deal, the company will be in that plan's preferred network, and that has the potential to bring more customers to its stores.
"That is hugely exciting to us," he said.