Two reports have set the healthcare community abuzz this week. The first uncovered that CVS is considering buying health insurance giant Aetna.
The second revealed that Amazon has obtained pharmacy licenses in multiple states. (A closer look revealed the licenses covered the distribution of healthcare-related equipment, not the distribution of prescription medications, but it’s apparent that Amazon is likely gearing up to acquire such licenses.)
As I see it, these two moves are very much related. The obvious connection, made by numerous investors who shed shares of pharmacy stocks following the Amazon report, is that there is a real belief Amazon will dive into pharmaceutical sales. With its proven ability to upend markets and its expansive retail footprint after purchasing Whole Foods, Amazon would instantly become a formidable competitor.
As the Amazon threat becomes more real with each passing day, it is forcing innovation on legacy players like CVS and other pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs). It’s clear CVS’s pivot into health insurance is partially a defensive measure against Amazon, as is its just-announced plan to offer nationwide next-day delivery for prescriptions.
But these moves are more about a less obvious connection: Both companies are making a play to “own” the healthcare consumer. Amazon is already known as the everything store, and offering pharmaceuticals would be a natural addition to its extensive consumer-facing platform. CVS is taking a slightly different approach in response: building on its broad healthcare and retail footprint to combine pharmacy, insurance services, and routine care for comprehensive health services conveniently located at a store near you.
Look at it this way: As an insurance provider with the retail footprint to provide both pharmacy services and routine care through its MinuteClinic operations, CVS would in many ways own the lifecycle of the healthcare consumer, from insurance to care provision. With this unique offering, CVS would gain a competitive advantage over virtually every company trying to own the healthcare consumer.
This is the next step in the consumerization of healthcare. By bringing as many elements of the healthcare ecosystem under one umbrella as possible, companies in the healthcare sector can deliver the customer-centric customer experience Amazon and others have built their businesses on. With more “consumerized” services and technology, consumers can enjoy greater control over decision-making and purchasing of healthcare.
The burgeoning healthtech space is teeming with technology companies trying to make healthcare as consumer-friendly as Amazon. But what makes these recent moves especially exciting is the sheer number of people they might reach. Amazon, CVS, and Aetna have a massive footprint across the country, and a strong move toward consumer-friendly technologies and business models will make it easier for millions to live longer and healthier lives.
Stephen Kraus is partner at Bessemer Venture Partners and leads the firm’s healthcare investing activities. He currently sits on the boards of Welltok, Bright Health, Groups, Health Essentials, Docent Health, Allena Pharmaceuticals, Alcresta, and Docutap and is a board observer at Collective Medical Technologies.