CVS Health CEO Merlo Says Supply of Pharmaceuticals Remains Steady
By Anna Wilde Mathews and Melanie Evans
NEW YORK--CVS Health Corp. Chief Executive Larry Merlo said the pharmacy operator's supply of pharmaceuticals remains steady as the coronavirus pandemic roils manufacturing and distribution markets globally.
"We have not experienced any significant out-of-stock or difficulty securing important medications" for people with chronic disease, Mr. Merlo said at The Wall Street Journal's Health Forum, held virtually Tuesday. "We are seeing people getting their prescriptions refilled in a very timely manner."
Its retail operations for household basics, though, are under strain from the pandemic, and customers can expect some spot shortages, he said. "There has been a dramatic spike in cleaning supplies, paper products and people looking to restock their medicine cabinets."
Efforts to expand drive-thru testing for the coronavirus are limited by the size of its store parking lots, and the company is in talks with local officials about locations with more space, he said.
Mr. Merlo said it is too soon to tell how the pandemic will affect its insurance operations, as hospitals care for coronavirus patients while cancelling elective procedures to free beds and medical staff to respond to the pandemic. The pharmacy giant acquired health insurer Aetna Inc. for nearly $70 billion in 2018.
The fast-spreading virus has taxed the pharmacy giant's operations in other ways as it races to hire more staff to drop off customer deliveries and man its stores and distribution centers. CVS said Tuesday it is seeking to fill 50,000 jobs. It is offering its workforce bonuses and child care to keep them on the job. (www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-sparks-hiring-spree-for-nearly-500-000-jobs-at-biggest-retailers-11584984596)
The hiring by big pharmacies and retailers comes as millions of Americans are losing jobs (www.wsj.com/articles/as-economic-toll-mounts-nation-ponders-the-trade-offs-11584970165) from efforts to slow contagion. Lockdowns by states and cities have halted life and business across America in an effort to curb the spread of the virus and avoid overwhelming hospitals with a surge of infected patients, as has happened in Italy and China.
Measures have devastated industries dependent on travel and foot traffic, including restaurants, small businesses and airlines, (www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-domestic-passenger-flights-could-virtually-shut-down-voluntarily-or-by-government-order-11585013673?mod=hp_lead_pos6) which are grappling with dwindling passengers and spread of the virus among its workforce.
CVS workers who interact with customers risk exposure to the virus. Mr. Merlo said CVS is scouring for personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, amid a global shortage. "We have been working all avenues to secure masks and gloves for our front-line employees," and limited supplies are delivered to hot spots, he said.
The company is encouraging employees who feel ill to stay home, adding additional sick leave and promising to pay workers who must sit out work to be quarantined, he said. CVS is offering paid leave for 14-day quarantines and expanded its paid sick leave for part-time employees as of Sunday.
"One of the things we have emphasized many times, is if you don't feel well, for whatever reason, stay home," Mr. Merlo said. Company employees have tested positive for coronavirus. Cases across the U.S. climbed to 46,800 as of Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
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