By TOM MURPHY
AP Health Writer
CVS Health will pay about $8 billion to expand into home care, a practice that could cut costs and keep patients happy, provided they get the help they need.
The health care giant is buying Signify Health, a technology company that sends doctors or other care providers to patient homes to assess how they are doing and what help they might need.
The deal, announced late Monday, is a way for CVS Health to provide more help to patients where and when they want it, CEO Karen Lynch told analysts Tuesday morning.
“The home is increasingly part of that choice,” she said, noting that the deal gives the company a foundation to expand further into home health care.
CVS Health runs thousands of drugstores nationally, sells insurance and manages prescription drug coverage.
Like competitors Walgreens and UnitedHealth Group, CVS Health also has been delving more into providing care and managing the health of its customers, especially those with chronic or expensive medical conditions.
Insurers and employers are pushing more for this approach to help patients stay healthy, on their medications and out of expensive hospitals.
Bill payers and care providers have recognized for years now that a patient’s health is largely affected by where they live, how they eat and other factors that happen outside any care provided during a brief doctor’s office visit.
Signify Health works with thousands of doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants nationally. They visit patients to check on their health and other factors in their home that may affect it.
That can include examining into whether the patient is eating well and can afford prescriptions. They also will look for any safety problems like tripping hazards in the home.
The company says it then connects patients after that assessment to “appropriate follow-up care and community-based resources.” A company representative said Signify shares what it learned with both the patient’s insurer and primary care doctor.
Signify Health does these annual assessments mostly for patients on Medicare Advantage plans, which are privately run versions of the government’s Medicare program for people who are age 65 and older. It also works with patients who have returned home from a hospital stay.
Care delivered at home is a trend that started growing before COVID-19 and then accelerated after the pandemic hit, said Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager with Gabelli Funds.
“People just don’t want to go to the hospital or go to a large physician office,” he said, noting that he expects home care to continue growing.
Health care researchers say the impact of these visits and assessments on a patient’s health isn’t clear yet.
“Overall, the key question is what will happen with the assessment once it’s made,” said Gretchen Jacobson, a vice president of Medicare with the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund.
The assessments could be helpful to patients, provided they receive the right support afterward to address any challenges that were identified, said Tricia Neuman, a senior vice president with the Kaiser Family Foundation, which also studies health care issues.
She said that some patients may have a complex prescription drug regimen to track, and they may need help managing that as well as other daily activities. If the patient has no family to help with this, then the plan or care provider has to help fill those gaps.
She noted that needs can differ by patient.
“Not everybody prefers to be at home because not everybody has the support they need at home,” she said. “This is both a challenge and an opportunity.”
Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter: @thpmurphy