Merlo: CVS seeing massive increases in telehealth use, home prescription delivery due to COVID-19

CVS Health is seeing a massive increase in the use of telehealth and home delivery, executives said Wednesday.

CEO Larry Merlo said that utilization of telehealth and virtual visits through its MinuteClinic locations was up 600% compared to the first quarter of 2019, while home delivery of prescriptions was up 1000%.

In addition, he said, the company is seeing a fourfold increase in the number of customers adding other items from the front of their stores to home pharmacy deliveries. CVS is also seeing increased engagement with customers and members through its app, Merlo said.

As people are urged to stay home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Merlo said CVS has pivoted successfully to a consumer-centric strategy for digital health that centers the company's central mission: to make healthcare more local and community-based.

And the industry's tech transformation is likely here to stay, he added.

"We are seeing a new normal emerge and in the new future there will be an evaluation point of what worked and what didn't," Merlo said, "and as a result, we expect elements of today's new norm will become part of tomorrow's everyday routines."

CVS earned $2 billion in profit for the first quarter, beating Wall Street expectations. That represents a significant increase in year-over-year profit. CVS earned $1.4 billion in profit for the first quarter of 2019.

It attributes the 41% profit boost in part to the rollback of the health insurance fee and to lower average debt.

CVS also reported $66.8 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2020, compared to $61.6 billion in the first quarter of 2019. The company said in its earnings release (PDF) that revenues were strong across all of its business lines in the quarter and that the retail pharmacy and pharmacy benefit management segments saw a boost from 90-day prescription fills due to COVID-19.

Much like its peers in the insurance industry, CVS' first-quarter finances were undaunted by the pandemic.

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“We have a presence in communities across the country and interact with one in three Americans every year. We have a leading consumer brand with a diversified portfolio of essential health care businesses," Merlo said in a statement.

"We’re utilizing our innovation-driven health care model, scale and unique capabilities to benefit consumers across the health care system, and none of this could be done without the tireless dedication of our colleagues," he added.

CVS said pharmacy claims volume through Caremark reached 541.4 million in the quarter, up from 481.8 million in the first quarter of 2019. The segment reported the highest revenue across CVS' businesses, bringing in $35 billion for the quarter.

Membership at Aetna also saw a slight increase for the quarter, growing by 700,000 members year over year to 23.5 million. 

CVS acknowledged the uncertainty that COVID-19 poses to future finances but affirmed its 2020 earnings guidance Wednesday, projecting between $7.04 and $7.17 in full-year earnings per share. It pulled back its remaining financial estimates for the year.