CVS touts Aetna's Medicare Advantage enrollment growth, continued HealthHUB expansion

CVS pharmacy
CVS released its fourth-quarter and year-end earnings Wednesday morning. (Mike Mozart/CC BY 2.0)

CVS Health's Aetna joins the cavalcade of health plans seeing significant growth in Medicare Advantage, adding about 563,000 new members in 2019.

CEO Larry Merlo said on the company's earnings call Wednesday that is a 30% increase, a growth rate of over three times in the industry average for the year. Merlo said the insurer saw notable membership growth both in individual and group Medicare products.

Overall medical membership reached 22.9 million, CVS said in its earnings release.

On the call, CVS also touted the continued expansion of its HealthHUB concept stores, one of its critical efforts for the year. CVS opened more than 50 such stores across four markets in 2019, and is looking to add between 600 and 650 by the end of this year. Ultimately, the goal is to reach 1,500 HealthHUBs by the end of 2021.

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The stores reconfigure traditional CVS pharmacies to allocate 20% of retail space to health services.

Merlo echoed comments he made at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference last month that the HealthHUBs are beating other CVS stores in script volume, foot traffic and MinuteClinic visits.

In addition, Merlo said that CVS is seeing strong uptake of its digital platforms, and that apps, online tools and text messaging are driving higher rates of satisfaction and loyalty among customers.

"A key part of our consumer-centric care strategy is meeting people where they are, including in the palm of their hand," Merlo said.

CVS Health reported $1.7 billion in profit for the fourth quarter of 2019 after posting a $421 million loss a year prior.

The company's full-year earnings also bounced back from a loss, with $6.6 billion in profits for 2019 overall compared to a $596 million loss for the year in 2018, according to the company's earnings release

Quarterly and 2019 revenues were also up significantly year over year. Fourth-quarter revenues were $66.9 billion, up 22% compared to $54.4 billion in 2018. Annual revenue reached $256.8 billion, up 23% from $194.6 billion the year before.

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CVS attributes that growth to ongoing integration with Aetna.

“As we work to transform the way health care is delivered to millions of Americans, we are driving continued business performance and generating positive momentum across the enterprise," said CEO Larry Merlo in a statement. "Our fourth quarter and full-year financial results reflect strong financial and operational execution and a successful first year of integrating the Aetna business."

For 2020, CVS increased its outlook and now projects between $15.5 billion and $15.8 billion in profit. Merlo said performance drivers in the coming year include the continued opening of HealthHUB stores.