Walgreens and Humana are partnering to create senior health hubs

A pharmacist helps a customer at a Walgreens pharmacy in Wheeling, Illinois.

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A pharmacist helps a customer at a Walgreens pharmacy in Wheeling, Illinois.

Drugstore chain Walgreens is partnering with health insurer Humana to open senior-focused care centers.

They plan to open two locations inside Walgreens stores this fall in the Kansas City, Missouri, area with primary care services, pharmacies and other services like a Humana representative to answer seniors’ Medicare questions.

Humana will run the clinics through its Partners in Primary Care business. The unit already opened four independent centers in the area last year. The partnership is just the latest example of health insurers trying to become more consumer-facing businesses.

Walgreens has been under pressure since rival CVS Health announced last year it would acquire health insurer Aetna for $69 billion in a move that shook the health-care industry. It’s also bracing for Amazon’spossible entry into the prescription drug business.

While small, the experiment could help Walgreens posture itself to care for seniors in more ways than it currently does through its pharmacies. Serving the elderly is an increasingly important battleground for health-care companies as baby boomers age.

“With this new initiative, we can expand the care for seniors that our pharmacists and other team members have provided for decades,” Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO Stefano Pessina said in a statement.

Walgreens already offers walk-in clinics in some of its stores, though those tend to serve coughs, colds and flu and are typically used once in awhile. With these primary care centers, Walgreens and Humana would try and keep seniors coming regularly as opposed to only when they’re sick.

It’s one of many experiments Walgreens is running to add more health services to its stores. In April, the drugstore chain announced it would add LabCorp testing services to more of its stores. It’s also dabbling with eye care centers and hearing centers in some locations.

CVS has said in-store clinics are a key component of its Aetna acquisition. CVS has also said the deal, which is pending regulatory approval, would help seniors because it would combine Aetna’s Medicare Advantage with CVS’ Medicare Part D plans.

These plans are attractive for pharmacies because seniors tend to use more prescription drugs than other age groups. They’re also important for insurers looking to attract the elderly into Medicare plans.

According to Pembroke Consulting’s Drug Channels Institute, nearly everyone enrolled in Medicare Part D is enrolled in prescription drug plans with preferred pharmacy networks, where pharmacies charge lower prices in exchange for more customers.

Walmart dominates enrollment in Medicare Part D plans with preferred cost-sharing networks, according to Drug Channels. The retailer has partnered with Humana since 2010 to offer a plan where Walmart and Sam’s Club are the only pharmacies in the network.

Working with drugstores can also give otherwise discreet health insurers a way to interact with consumers. Aetna will receive a boost once it integrates with CVS’ stores, assuming it clears regulatory scrutiny.

“This unique partnership supports Humana’s multi-faceted approach to health care in this community and is a continuation of our senior-focused care strategy, which is centered on integrating care through clinical programs that intersect health and lifestyle,” Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said in a statement.

The companies said they may one day expand this partnership into other markets.

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