CVS Caremark takes aim at health inequities, starting with sickle cell, HIV

CVS Caremark is expanding its health equity efforts, setting goals that specifically target diseases that disproportionately impact patients of color, such as HIV and sickle cell disease.

For example, the pharmacy benefit management giant announced earlier this month that it aims to double the number of sickle cell patients on hydroxyurea, a low-cost medication that can help manage the condition by reversing changes to blood cells.

In tandem, CVS said it wants to improve adherence among people already taking hydroxyurea and significantly increase trait testing to identify people at risk more quickly.

Lucille Accetta, senior vice president for PBM and specialty product development at CVS Health, said the company is laser-focused on its initial goals to avoid biting off more than it can chew, but there is room to build on these efforts as they produce results.

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"I think we’re focusing on a couple of goals so that we can really stay aligned," Accetta said.

CVS said some regions have seen the number of sickle cell trait carriers, who can eventually develop the disease, double as people pass the trait along without knowing that they had it. Caremark said it plans to partner with national and community organizations to build programs to enhance awareness and access for sickle cell.

In addition, CVS said it plans to build on existing programs on HIV to enhance education and assist patients in getting on preventive treatment whenever possible. CVS is also a participant in the Department of Health and Human Services' Ready, Set, PrEP initiative, which aims to reduce the number of new HIV infections by 90% by 2030.

Cardiovascular disease is also a target for this effort, CVS said, and the PBM is aiming to increase the number of patients initiating medication therapy and ensuring those who are on medication are taking the optimal dose to effectively manage their conditions.

Across all of the focus disease states, CVS said it plans to harness a four-pronged strategy to get at these health disparities:

  1. Awareness and education
  2. Testing and screening
  3. Access to health services
  4. Treatment optimization interventions

Accetta said CVS views this work as a natural extension of Project Health, which aims to increase access to preventive screenings in underserved communities, and other health equity work the health giant has rolled out across its sprawling enterprise.

"For me, this new effort is just an expansion of our broader health equity work," she said. "I just feel it’s a great extension to what CVS Health wants to achieve."