- Pill Club, a birth-control-delivery startup, is battling with the health giant CVS Caremark over how much it gets paid for prescriptions.
- Pill Club has taken the feud to the public, posting a plea on its website: “CVS, don’t take away access to birth control.”
- The hashtag #CVSDeniesCare went viral on Twitter on Thursday morning, and a second hashtag, #BoycottCVS, emerged later in the day.
- Pill Club patients who get prescriptions covered through CVS Caremark are an important part of the startup’s business. If CVS Caremark doesn’t change course, those patients could lose coverage through Pill Club, Pill Club said on its website.
- No other birth-control-delivery startups contacted by Business Insider early Thursday could confirm that it was also affected, and CVS had no immediate comment.
- In a statement to Business Insider, a spokesman for CVS Health described Pill Club’s claims about patients losing coverage as “extremely misleading,” adding, “We are committed to providing access to women’s health care and it is irresponsible for Pill Club to suggest otherwise in an effort to maximise their profits at the expense of our PBM clients.”
- The episode shows how public outrage could become a new tool in health startups’ negotiations with established healthcare companies.
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Pill Club, a birth-control-delivery startup, is taking a clash with the health giant CVS Caremark to the public arena.
Pill Club and CVS Caremark are feuding over how much CVS pays Pill Club to send prescriptions to its customers. The startup posted a plea on its website, “CVS, don’t take away access to birth control,” and the issue trended on Twitter on Thursday morning under the hashtag #CVSDeniesCare. A second hashtag, #BoycottCVS, trended later in the day.
And with that, a feud between corporations over reimbursement rates turned into a battle over hot-button issues like access to contraception and women’s rights. The American Civil Liberties Union weighed in, as did the president of the pro-abortion-rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Thread: Learned this morning that CVS Caremark is cutting reimbursement rates for mail order birth control pills, making it more expensive and potentially out of reach for tens of thousands of women who for many reasons cannot get to the pharmacy every month. #CVSDeniesCare
— ilyse hogue (@ilyseh) August 15, 2019
A spokeswoman for Pill Club said the company sent an email to its users on Thursday morning and “alerted its partner organisations and friends close to the company about the situation.” The spokeswoman said that the company didn’t launch the viral Twitter campaign.
Pill Club patients who get prescriptions covered through CVS Caremark are an important part of the startup’s business, the spokeswoman said, though she did not comment on the specific amount.
“If we cannot convince CVS to change course in the next few weeks, we will have no choice but to stop serving people with CVS Caremark pharmacy benefits,” Pill Club said on its website.
In a statement to Business Insider, a spokesman for CVS Health described Pill Club’s claims about patients losing coverage as “extremely misleading.”
“We are committed to providing access to women’s health care and it is irresponsible for Pill Club to suggest otherwise in an effort to maximise their profits at the expense of our PBM clients,” the spokesman said.
One early #CVSDeniesCare tweet came on Wednesday night from Gianna Fine, a marketing coordinator living in South Carolina.
if you know me, you know i’m a huge advocate for accessible birth control. it’s incredibly upsetting that policy makers and big corporations try to restrict OUR right to have control of OUR bodies. #CVSdeniescare pic.twitter.com/ET9wGonmZ7
— gianna ???? (@unapologeticalg) August 15, 2019
Fine told Business Insider by phone that she had gotten birth control through Pill Club for a few months now and had found the “best birth control I’ve used” through the service.
She said she found out about the CVS issue when she logged into her Pill Club account and then began communicating with the startup on Instagram. Fine said she had not been paid by Pill Club to post about the issue.
A new group of online healthcare startups
Pill Club is one of a crop of new startups like Nurx and Hers that prescribe birth control online and ship it to the customer’s door, and viral social-media posts have suggested that the CVS Caremark change could affect other birth-control-delivery startups as well; none contacted by Business Insider on Thursday could confirm that it was also affected.
The CVS spokesman told Business Insider that earlier this year the company notified “non-traditional pharmacies” like Pill Club that had been receiving reimbursements at the same rate as retail pharmacies that they would be subject to different terms and reimbursement, based on their business models.
“Other pharmacies in our network with similar business models as Pill Club have agreed to the same terms and reimbursement,” the spokesman said.
Joel Wishkovsky, the CEO of Simple Health, a startup that provides birth control online, said his company was on a similar contract as Pill Club. He said Simple Health wouldn’t turn away Caremark patients even if CVS paid his company less.
Pill Club has sought to portray CVS as hostile to women’s health issues. In an email to Business Insider, a Pill Club spokeswoman wrote that “CVS clearly doesn’t see women’s health as a priority,” citing the health giant’s connections to the Trump administration and its majority-male board of directors.
The language used by Pill Club also closely mirrors that of some people on social media.
#CVSDeniesCare is trending because @cvspharmacy, which is a $77 billion company run by a male-dominated board of directors, has decided to restrict access to and raise costs of home delivery birth control for tens of thousands of women with disabilities.
DO BETTER CVS.
— Ryan Knight ???? (@ProudResister) August 15, 2019
Emily Patterson, a social-media manager at the ACLU, said the organisation tweeted using the hashtag #CVSDeniesCare after seeing it trending, not because another group encouraged it to get involved.
The Pill Club model
Pill Club works like this: Customers who go online can say what their birth-control preference is and list any health concerns that might be relevant. One of the company’s physicians then reviews that information and decides whether to write a prescription. Pill Club’s pharmacies send those pills, or other birth control, to a customer’s front door, in a “care package” that also includes goodies like sweets and stickers.
Companies like Pill Club are part of a new trend toward more convenient, online models for prescription medications. These new startups typically combine a virtual doctor visit with medication shipped directly to the customer.
Pill Club is one of a handful of these companies that fill prescriptions through a patient’s health insurance. That’s where companies like CVS Caremark, termed “pharmacy-benefit managers,” come in. They agree to pay a certain amount of money per prescription to pharmacies.
This isn’t the first time online startups have taken disputes with PBMs public. In 2016, PillPack, the online pharmacy now owned by Amazon, got into an argument with Express Scripts that almost resulted in PillPack getting cut from the PBM’s massive network.
Here’s CVS’s full statement:
“Our coverage of contraceptives is widespread throughout our network of 68,000 pharmacies, ensuring accessible and affordable access to our members. The accusations being made by Pill Club against CVS Caremark are extremely misleading. Pill Club continues to be a participating pharmacy in our network and there is no impact on its customers’ access to contraceptives. We are committed to providing access to women’s health care and it is irresponsible for Pill Club to suggest otherwise in an effort to maximise their profits at the expense of our PBM clients.
“Earlier this year, we notified certain non-traditional pharmacies, including Pill Club, which had been receiving reimbursement at the same rate as the retail drugstores in our PBM pharmacy network, that it would be subject to additional terms and reimbursement applicable to its business model. Other pharmacies in our network with similar business models as Pill Club have agreed to the same terms and reimbursement.
“We remain committed to providing plan design options for our clients that includes coverage for contraceptive products, including birth control pills. Ensuring that the pharmacies in our network are reimbursed appropriately based on their business models helps our clients provide cost-effective coverage for their members’ pharmacy care needs.”
This article has been updated with a statement from CVS.
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