CEO SUMMARY: National pharmacy chain Rite Aid now offers free clinical laboratory tests to members of its customer-rewards program once they reach certain spending levels. After the customer’s specimen is tested, the laboratory test results are sent directly to the customer’s local Rite Aid pharmacist. Next, the pharmacist will discuss the lab test results with the consumer. This marketing program is the latest example of how pharmacies want to use lab testing as a way to generate more prescriptions.
ONE OF THE NATION’S MAJOR PHARMACY CHAINS now offers free clinical laboratory tests to members of its “frequent shopper” program. As part of this free offer, its pharmacists are sent copies of the laboratory test results so they can use this information to discuss prescriptions with the patients.
Rite Aid Corporation of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, offers this program in New England and other regions to members of its customer rewards program, which is called “Wellness+.” When a member achieves silver (500 or more points) or gold status, Rite Aid sends out a cover letter and a laboratory test requisition form.
The laboratory tests will be performed by Quest Diagnostics Incorporated and the lab test requisition form is signed by a physician associated with Medivo. The member/patient is asked for permission to release the laboratory test results to that customer’s local Rite Aid pharmacist. Rite Aid then asks the member to call the pharmacy for the test results within two days.
Rite Aid has 4,671 stores in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Most of its stores are east of the Mississippi River. Rite Aid and Quest Diagnostics declined several requests to comment on this clinical lab testing program.
Once members of the Rite Aid Wellness+ program make enough store purchases and pick up enough prescriptions to achieve 500 points in the customer-loyalty program, they are eligible for free blood glucose and total cholesterol screening through a Quest Diagnostics laboratory.
Free Health Screenings
In one letter sent to members, Rite Aid President and CEO John Standley wrote, “Part of staying well is staying on top of your glucose and cholesterol levels. Unchecked, they can lead to diabetes and heart disease. Yet many people are unaware they are at risk.”
Standley explained that one in five Americans is at risk of diabetes and one in three has borderline or high levels of cholesterol. He then urged Wellness+ members to take advantage of the free health screening.
To get the free clinical laboratory tests, members are instructed to follow three instructions. (See sidebar on facing page.) After the specimen is collected, Quest Diagnostics will perform the tests and send the results to the Rite Aid store closest to the customer. This pharmacist will then contact the customer to discuss the laboratory test results with him or her.
Pharmacists Can Consult
It is not a surprise that Rite Aid recognizes the value of gaining access to the clinical laboratory test results of the customers who most frequently patronize their drug stores. With this knowledge, Rite Aid pharmacists can engage the customer in a consultation which can result in either a change in medication or a new prescription. It also creates the opportunity for the pharmacist to build a stronger personal relationship with a regular customer.
At a strategic level, Rite Aid’s willingness to pay for free laboratory tests to screen its customers for glucose and cholesterol signals another threat and opportunity in the medical laboratory testing marketplace. For one thing, over the past two decades, in different states around the nation, the pharmacy industry has tried to get legislation passed that would expand the pharmacist’s scope of practice to include laboratory testing.
Drug Stores and Lab Testing
Over these same years, the College of American Pathologists (CAP) and other laboratory medicine societies have opposed such bills, mostly with success. But the persistence of the pharmacy profession at introducing such bills demonstrates that it recognizes the clinical value and economic benefits of offering laboratory testing services to the customers who walk into their drug stores.
Thus, if Rite Aid’s program of free lab testing proves successful, pathologists and lab administrators should expect to see Rite Aid expand the range of lab screening tests it offers to its Wellness+ members. That would allow its pharmacists to have discussions with customers about a greater number of medical conditions and the prescription drugs that would be used to treat these conditions.
As well, Rite Aid’s competitors will be watching to see if this program is liked by consumers and generates a profitable volume of additional prescriptions. Both national and regional pharmacy chains will be ready to copy Rite Aid with their own free lab test screening programs.
For Quest Diagnostics, the Rite Aid relationship represents an opportunity to provide laboratory testing at more favorable prices than it gets from managed care plans. This business niche also comes with an added benefit: it is a client-bill arrangement and so collection costs will be minimal.
Free Tests and Inducement
Some pathologists and lab administrators may ask whether an offer of free lab testing to consumers might violate laws. Is there any inducement if the Medicare patient gets a free laboratory screening test and the pharmacy which paid for that free service then generates a prescription?
It must be assumed that the corporate legal departments at both Rite Aid and Quest Diagnostics took care to design this free lab testing program so that it fully complies with all applicable federal and state laws. As billion-dollar corporations with their respective Medicare licenses at stake, neither partner in this arrangement would want to run afoul of the various laws pertaining to anti-kickback and inducement.
What is true about the Rite Aid free lab testing screening service for its Wellness+ members is that it shows how alternate delivery channels for clinical lab testing are emerging. Other clever and never-before-seen arrangements by pharmacy companies that use lab testing as a hook to boost business are likely to follow.
Moreover, it is the changing dynamics in healthcare that encouraged Internet- based lab testing companies to spring up and provide low-priced laboratory tests to the uninsured, the underinsured, and those individuals with high-deductible health plans who are motivated to save money. These are examples of how the pace of change in the laboratory testing marketplace is accelerating.
Rite Aid’s Wellness+ Members Can Get Free Laboratory Tests for Glucose and Cholesterol
FREE CLINICAL LABORATORY TESTS are offered to members of Wellness+, which is Rite Aid Corporation’s consumer awards program, once they accumulate 500 points and achieve silver or gold status.
In the letter Rite Aid sends to members, they are asked to do the following steps. First, the letter said, visit Quest’s website or call the toll-free number to find a local Quest lab or patient service center (PSC).
Second, Wellness+ members are to complete a consent form that is enclosed with the letter and told to bring it to the appointment at the Quest Diagnostics laboratory or PSC.
Third, the letter said, “Your health screening will be sent confidentially to your Rite Aid pharmacist within 48 hours. Simply give them a call to discuss or schedule a time to review in person.”
Attached to the letter is a Quest Diagnostics requisition form. The requisition THE DARK REPORT saw includes the patient’s name and unique patient identification number. The requisition is for:
- 483 Glucose;
- 334 Cholesterol, Total; and,
- 3259 Quest PSC Collection Fee.
On the Quest Diagnostics’ website, 483 Glucose refers to CPT Code 82947, a glucose specimen; 334 Cholesterol, Total, refers to CPT Code 82465; and 3259 refers to CPT Code 36415, the draw fee at a PSC.
The form also instructs Wellness+ members to visit the Quest Diagnostics website and click on the “Make appointment” tab. There, under reason for testing, members should choose “Employer and wellness services,” the requisition said.
Next, the requisition instructed members that, by signing the requisition, they are authorizing the release of their laboratory test results to a Rite Aid pharmacist “for the purposes of a consultation.”
“I understand that by my voluntary participation in the Rite Aid sponsored wellness program, I am authorizing the release of my laboratory results in a confidential manner to a Rite Aid pharmacist for the purposes of consulting with me on those results.”
At the bottom of the requisition, just above the line designated for the patient’s signature, the form lists four physicians under the heading “Ordering Physician.” Each of the four physicians is listed as “a Medivo authorized physician.”
One Medivo physician is for patients in California only, one is for patients in New York only, and one is for Pennsylvania only. The fourth physician is for patients in all other locations.
Medivo is a New York-based healthcare startup company that recently raised $7 million in funding led by Safeguard Scientifics, of Wayne, Pennsylvania, according to BusinessInsider.com. “It’s a data and lab testing service company that connects patients to a network of physicians,” said BusinessInsider.com.
“Medivo helps patients schedule everything from cholesterol to cancer tests,” wrote BusinessInsider.com. “It gives patients easier access to lab testing services and breaks down the results in a way that’s easy to understand. It was founded by doctors and entrepreneurs Sundeep Bhan, Destry Sulkes, M.D., and Jason Bhan, M.D.”