Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini says merger wouldn't change commitment to community-based care

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini is pushing for a return to community-based healthcare even as the insurance company prepares to merge with retail pharmacy giant CVS. 

Critics of the merger have said the deal will hurt competition and cut local services. But Bertolini said the $69 billion deal with CVS doesn't change the fact that the healthcare industry is moving toward a renaissance of community-based care.

“Everything is going back to community," Bertolini said at a conference in California, according to the Hartford Courant. "I think the best way to manage the kind of shift we’re in is to go back to community and build smaller and smaller governance models to help support the growth of this. What you’re in essence building is a marketplace in the community around health."

It would be "neat if you could just go to your local store," he added. "I’ve even joked around saying we should put the soda stand back in there and people sit at the counter … and just sort of hang out in this local community and get information you need from each other."

RELATED: Shareholders approve CVS-Aetna acquisition

CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo has also said the new joint entity will have the tools needed to offer a new community-focused model of health, as FierceHealthcare reported last week.

"At the same time, our company will benefit from a stronger market position, with the potential to deliver increased value through the development of innovative new products and services and generate long-term growth opportunities that help produce stronger, more consistent results for shareholders as a uniquely integrated healthcare company," Merlo said.  

CVS and Aetna are hoping to close their merger by the end of the year, following a regulatory review by the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Some lawmakers haven't been shy about criticizing the merger. In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Acting Chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Maureen Ohlhausen earlier this month, Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., expressed “grave concern” over the proposed acquisition.

CVS "has already run amok in my state by severely undercutting reimbursements to pharmacists," the lawmaker said. "CVS Caremark and another [pharmacy benefit manager] operating in the state paid community pharmacies on average between negative $2 to negative $4 per prescription across the entire market basket of services.”

Crawford asked the agency heads to carefully consider the consequences of the acquisition and warned that actions taken by pharmacy benefit managers have led to broken laws, self-dealing, decreased competition and "complete failure of the pharmacy marketplace."