Aetna exec: Retail-based programs connect Medicare members to health resources they trust

a HealthHUB location inside a CVS Pharmacy store
In a recent Fierce Health virtual session, Aetna Medicare President Christopher Ciano outlined the role CVS Pharmacy-based programs can play in connecting seniors to care and promoting the company's Medicare offerings. (CVS Health)

As Aetna works to tackle gaps in care across its Medicare population, the payer says it is increasingly leaning on the physical assets provided by its 2018 merger with CVS Health to drive healthcare engagement and promote its coverage offerings.

“It’s opened up a full tool chest to think differently,” Christopher Ciano, president of Aetna Medicare, said during Tuesday’s virtual Fierce Health Payer Summit. “Even before we came together, the Aetna Medicare strategy was all about trying to be local. … Seniors want to be met where they desire to be met, not where we want to meet them.”

Seniors are fairly set in their ways, meaning they respond best to outreach efforts that follow their day-to-day routines or come from trustworthy sources, Ciano said.

Much like a family doctor, most Americans view pharmacists as a trusted staple in their routine care—and potentially more so, as many patients see and speak with their pharmacists several times more often than they do a doctor, he continued.

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With thousands of retail pharmacies already scattered throughout the country, Ciano said introducing new Medicare benefits through these locations is a clear path to increased engagement and, if necessary, speedy connections to care.

“We’ve actually really done a lot in new benefits, for example, trying to make things more convenient and affordable, and using the pharmacists in the CVS stores is a central theme,” he said. “We launched something called the Pharmacist Panel Program for our seniors, and basically this is connecting Aetna Medicare seniors with local pharmacists to really give them some real-time coaching and counseling on medication adherence, on recommended screenings and ultimately vaccines. … Also, the pharmacists can connect people back to our care managers back in Aetna depending on their issues.”

Further, CVS has pushed its store-based MinuteClinics and HealthHUBs to better cater to older demographics.

The former, for example, has adopted an “age-friendly” approach where clinicians working with seniors focus on what Ciano referred to as “the four M’s”—medications, mobility, mental activity and what matters to the individual in regard to their health goals.

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At the same time, its HealthHUBs initiative has acted as a guide to healthcare services within the retail setting, helping seniors fit themselves for durable medical equipment, learn to use a glucometer or even just find grab bars to add to their homes, he said. Care concierges based out of these HealthHUBs are also reaching out to seniors proactively to encourage health screenings or schedule primary care appointments.

The latest additions, he said, are payer agnostic Medicare support centers where seniors can receive a no-cost consultation from a licensed agent to assess their situation, recommend plans and answer any relevant questions about coverage. There are roughly 125 of these support centers that already live in HealthHUBs across the country, opening up new opportunities to educate customers with the support of a trusted community health setting.

“Trust is important,” he said. “The way you approach it is important and you’ve got to be in the community—you can’t be calling from a 1-800 number. … It’s about establishing that connection and really having trust that you want to do what’s right by them and for them.”