(Bloomberg) — UnitedHealth Group Inc.’s OptumRx unit struck an agreement to ease customers’ access to drugs through Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.’s drugstores, a move to help the business compete with rival pharmacy benefit managers.
Clients of OptumRx, the third-largest U.S. drug benefit manager after CVS Health Corp. (NYSE:CVS) and Express Scripts Holding Co. (Nasdaq:ESRX), will be able to pick up 90-day prescriptions at almost 8,200 Walgreens pharmacies, rather than receiving them by mail, the companies said Thursday in a statement. Financial terms of the agreement weren’t disclosed.
The tie-up helps OptumRx keep up with similar offerings from CVS and Express Scripts, and may increase appeal to corporate clients, according to Peter Costa, an analyst at Wells Fargo & Co. OptumRx expanded in July with the acquisition of another pharmacy benefit manager, or PBM, Catamaran Corp.
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“At the very least we see this announced partnership as UnitedHealth catching up to its PBM industry peers,” Costa wrote Thursday in a research note. “If priced well it could even shift the landscape such that Express Scripts would be at a disadvantage and CVS could lose its current product advantage.”
Express Scripts fell 2.5 percent to $67.54 at 1:45 p.m. in New York, while CVS gained 0.3 percent to $101.28. UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH) fell 1.6 percent to $123.33. Walgreens rose 0.9 percent to $83.04.
Unlike CVS, Walgreens (NYSE:WBA) doesn’t operate its own drug-benefits business. The deal with OptumRx will probably draw more customers into Walgreens stores, along with boosting drug sales, according to Ann Hynes, an analyst at Mizuho Securities.
Express Scripts probably has the most to lose during the employer-benefits selling season, which begins next month, according to Hynes. The company has a similar arrangement with Walgreens, but still tends to push customers to get their drugs by mail.
David Whitrap, an Express Scripts spokesman, said his company’s current strategy is working.
“Our independent model has worked very well for Express Scripts,” he said. “It allows us to provide our patients more options and ensure that we’re giving them the best possible care at the best possible price.”