The company expects to invest billions of dollars in the coming years to add clinics and services, largely financed by diverting funds away from other planned investments.
That could eventually cut costs substantially, with the clinics serving as an alternative to more expensive hospital emergency room visits.
Meanwhile, deeper collaboration between Aetna’s insurance business and CVS’s PBM division could drive down drug costs by adding clients and boosting the PBM’s leverage with drugmakers.
Independent PBMs have long been criticized for potential conflicts of interest with insurance company clients, because they could potentially keep cost savings from drug negotiations rather than passing them on to patients.
Health insurers meanwhile have sought to cut costs amid steep prescription drug price rises and requirements to care for even the sickest patients under the Affordable Care Act.
Large corporate customers of Aetna are taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding the impact on costs, benefits experts have said.
Analysts have said the CVS-Aetna deal could prompt other healthcare sector mega-mergers, as rivals scramble to emulate the strategy.
It could spur a merger between Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc and Humana Inc, or between Humana and Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Ana Gupte, analyst at Leerink Partners, said recently.
Although CVS and Aetna’s planned merger does not directly consolidate the health insurance or pharmaceutical industries, the U.S. Department of Justice has been taking a closer look at so-called vertical mergers, where the companies are not direct competitors.
Last month, the Justice Department sued to block AT&T Inc’s planned $85.4 billion merger with Time Warner Inc., saying the integration of a content producer with a distributor could reduce consumer choice.
The CVS-Aetna deal could attract similar scrutiny if regulators feared it could block Aetna customers from frequenting other pharmacies or contracting with other PBMs, several investors said, asking not to be named because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
But four antitrust experts said there is little doubt the deal will be approved, although it might need to meet conditions to convince antitrust enforcers to sign off.
It is unclear whether it would be evaluated by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission or the Justice Department but that decision might be made based on which agency is less busy, says Matthew Cantor of law firm Constantine Cannon.
“[The companies] want the FTC to get it. The reason that the FTC is better at this point is that the Justice Department has just broken with decades of precedent of how to deal with vertical mergers,” said Cantor, referring to the decision to refuse conduct remedies and file a lawsuit to stop AT&T Inc from buying Time Warner Inc.