CVS, Pill Club dispute sparks calls to boycott healthcare giant

Packs of birth control pills
CVS took heat on social media for a dispute with birth control delivery service Pill Club. (Getty/areeya_ann)

A spat between CVS Caremark and a birth control subscription service led to a recent social media firestorm with calls to #BoycottCVS trending on Twitter. 

Pill Club, a home delivery service providing birth control pills, called on its members to contact the CVS Health-owned pharmacy benefit manager or their employer late last week to support the subscription service after Caremark called for cuts to the rates it pays for Pill Club as part of contract negotiations. 

Pill Club said rate cuts could hinder access to contraception for thousands of women, particularly low-income women. 

What happened?

“We believe that CVS simply doesn’t understand how devastating these cuts will be to Pill Club and the women we serve,” Pill Club said in a statement. “We believe they are trying to save money without knowing all of the consequences.” 

RELATED: As digital disruptors make inroads, pharmacy giants shifting to health services, J.D. Power executive says

Pill Club also called on CVS to maintain previous payment rates, which were in place through July 5. 

The birth control subscription’s statement led to a rash of posts on social media over the last several days, with the hashtags #BoycottCVS and #CVSDeniesCare trending on Twitter.  

Twitter users also took the healthcare giant to task for a February 2018 article in The Wall Street Journal that reported CVS Health’s political committee made significant donations to President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. 

CVS responded to the controversy by saying its contraceptive coverage is “widespread throughout our network.” It also asserted that there would be “no impact” on Pill Club customers as a result of rate changes. 

“We are committed to providing access to women’s healthcare and it is irresponsible for the Pill Club to suggest otherwise to maximize their profits at the expense of our PBM clients,” CVS said. 

RELATED: Mounting battle between Amazon’s PillPack and Surescripts over access to data 

Why does this matter?

While the dialogue about the dispute on social media was framed in political terms, the issue at hand is more likely a business one.

A wrinkle to consider is CVS’ newly announced plan to take its own pharmaceutical delivery service nationwide. CVS Pharmacy’s home delivery would thus compete directly for home delivery customers with services like Pill Club. 

In addition, the home pharmacy delivery space is a crowded one, and competition in the market is heating up. A recent J.D. Power survey found as new digital disrupters like Amazon’s online pharmacy PillPack redesign the pharmacy experience, brick-and-mortar pharmacy giants will need to innovate and pivot to health and wellness to stay ahead on customer satisfaction, innovation and access to health and wellness services.

Amazon's purchase of PillPack last summer spooked investors in retail pharmacies, including CVS and rivals Walgreens and Rite Aid. The online retail giant is also in the process of launching a new healthcare venture called Haven in partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. Last year, Amazon ditched a plan to sell pharmaceuticals to hospitals

Other groups such as UPS are also piloting home drug delivery for products such as vaccines.