Aetna pilot harnesses CVS pharmacists to address Medicaid members' social needs

Woman paying for a prescription at a pharmacy
Aetna has partnered with Unite Us on a new program targeting the social determinants of health. (Getty/Tom Merton)

A new Aetna pilot program aims to harness its parent company's pharmacy reach to help address members' social needs.

Through the HealthTag initiative, CVS Health pharmacists and pharmacy employees are empowered to offer more personalized information when Aetna Medicaid members come to pick up prescriptions, providing the members with health information beyond how to take their medications appropriately.

Inside the prescription bag, members are provided additional details on how to access community services to address social concerns like food, housing or transportation. The network of these organizations is backed by Unite Us, a social care coordination program.

Aetna will pilot the program at CVS pharmacies in West Virginia and Louisiana.

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R.J. Briscione, senior director for social determinants of health strategy at CVS Health, told Fierce Healthcare that the program is an example of Aetna taking advantage of the opportunities available as an integrated part of CVS.

He said teams across the company's business segments are invested in ways to get at patients' social determinants of health.

"There’s really a lot of work going on across CVS and Aetna," Briscione said.

As evidence of this, the HealthTag effort is part of the broader Destination: Health initiative, which includes a slew of social programs across CVS Health. Other projects launched under the Destination: Health banner include a digital tool that will allow Aetna's employer clients to track workers' social needs along with millions in investments in affordable housing.

Briscione said the program is designed to identify Aetna Medicaid members who could use additional interventions to address their social needs, but who might otherwise not receive those potential services.

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Patients also have fairly frequent interactions with a pharmacist and oftentimes see them more often than primary care physicians or other providers, he said, so their accessibility and reach makes them an ideal conduit for this information on social services.

"It's a really nice and natural place to go," he said.

While Destination: Health was not launched under the pandemic, initiatives like HealthTag have had to adapt to the realities of COVID-19. 

Briscione said one of the biggest challenges was working with Unite Us to ensure the community health organizations were able to provide needed services while many of their traditional, in-person approaches were shuttered.

The teams at Aetna and Unite Us played a key role in assisting them in adapting to virtual care demands, for example, he said.

"Frankly, a lot of the community-based organizations in the network weren’t quite prepared for having to basically serve their members virtually," he said. "It's really all about adaptability."