How the Aetna-CVS Merger Could Affect Healthcare in Rural Maine

Bangor Daily News | Jan. 26, 2018 | By Meg Haskell

Featuring comments from Eric Shell, Stroudwater Associates

The pending merger of CVS Health and insurer Aetna could mean cheaper medications, more walk-in clinics and other benefits for Maine consumers, but some observers fear it will undermine the tenuous stability of the state’s rural health system.

The companies claim the $77 billion mega-merger, announced in December, will additionally lead to better chronic disease management and an overall reduction in health care spending. The promised changes could prove attractive in Maine’s rural areas, where health care options are fewer, and allow the companies to undercut struggling local hospitals, experts said.

In Maine, CVS has 27 retail pharmacies, including two located inside Target stores. With the exception of one store, in Bangor, all are in the southern half of the state. Two sites, in Portland and South Portland, include walk-in “Minute Clinics” that provide basic clinical services.

The emergence of such retail clinics nationally reflects a failure of the traditional health system to meet consumer needs, especially in less populated areas, said Eric Shell, rural health care consultant at Stroudwater Associates in Portland.

“We have to to take this as a wakeup call to create better access in rural practices,” he said.