CVS Caremark gets aggressive with PBM.

WOONSOCKET, R.I. —If you ask Tom Ryan, it’s more about the offer and the outcomes than it is about the price that is driving CVS Caremark’s PBM business these days. And that has the CVS Caremark chairman, president and CEO optimistic about the 2011 selling season.

“While it is still early, results to date are encouraging, and we are optimistic. The clinical strategies and value proposition are resonating with clients and consultants,” Ryan told analysts during the company’s first-quarter conference call on May 4. Ryan noted that CVS Caremark’s PBM business—which posted a 2.6% boost in revenues during the first quarter—has a fair amount of new prospects for 2011 and is in a “net positive position to date.”

With a Bloomberg BusinessWeek report published just days earlier that indicated CVS Caremark is challenging competitor Medco with aggressive pricing for 2011 health plan contracts, it came as no surprise that pricing was top-of-mind for a few industry analysts.

CVS Caremark declined to comment for the Bloomberg BusinessWeek article, but Ryan told analysts during the May 4 call that “from a pricing standpoint, we think the market is similar to what it has been in the last five to 10 years. It is competitive and aggressive, and, at the end of the day, clients want the right service and they want the right clinical programs that are going to lower their overall healthcare costs. So it is a balance between pricing and service.” Ryan reiterated that CVS Care-mark’s PBM business leverages a range of tools to reduce pharmacy and overall healthcare costs to clients.

Its Maintenance Choice program now stands at 494 plans, representing 5.6 million lives. Lives switching from voluntary mail plans to Maintenance Choice typically see a significant increase in 90-day utilization and substantial savings for clients and their members, as well as better adherence and better generic penetration, Ryan said.

With regard to the retail side of the business, Larry Merlo, EVP of CVS Caremark and president of CVS/pharmacy, told analysts that the company expects the second half to benefit from, among other factors, merchandising initiatives at the front end.

“We are in the process of rolling out our ‘urban cluster program,’ and that group of stores represents about 20% of our base. And we are improving the category assortment, hours of operation and the checkout experience,” he added. “At the same time, we are also doubling the consumables space in about half of our stores to take advantage of quick shopping trips.”

For the first quarter, net revenues increased to $23.8 billion, up from $23.4 billion in the year-ago period. Same-store sales rose 2.3%, pharmacy same-store sales rose 3.7% and front-end same-store sales slipped 0.7%. Net income attributable to CVS Caremark totaled $771 million, versus $738 million last year.