Meet CVS: Emotionally Abusive Schoolyard Bully


The schoolyard bully doesn’t like it when the other kids finally stand up for themselves.

Such was the case this week when CVS Health posted a 4-paragraph response to losing the $400 million State of Louisiana employee and retiree pharmacy benefits contract.

With zero irony, the largest health company in the U.S. complained on their LinkedIn page:

“By inserting themselves in the state’s process of selecting a firm to manage prescription drug coverage … special interest groups representing Louisiana’s independent pharmacists attempted to line their own pockets at the expense of the state’s taxpayers, employees, and retirees …

This situation has set a dangerous precedent, endangering the healthcare coverage of state employees, threatening the fiscal solvency of the state employee and retiree benefit plan, and emboldening special interest groups whose sole concern is lining their own pockets. This bullying behavior, at a time when the state is facing unparalleled economic uncertainty from a global pandemic and countless natural disasters, is nothing short of shameful. Moreover, it represents an alarming trend that all states should be concerned about.”

Translation: the tables have turned and they don’t like it. Not one little bit.

The problem wasn’t that “special interest groups” inserted themselves into the process. Procurement was complete by the time Louisiana’s Office of Group Benefits submitted the CVS Health contract to the State Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) for approval, citing an “emergency.”

The problem was there wasn’t an emergency.

And so the JLCB had questions. How did this happen? Why was the state rushing to sign a contract with such poorly defined terms? (e.g. definition of a generic drug: “any drug that isn’t a brand”) Why CVS Health, with its documented track record of screwing over patients and undercutting small pharmacies? What about those state Medicaid studies implicating CVS for overcharging Medicaid nearly a half-billion dollars?

Without satisfactory answers, the JLCB voted unanimously to reject the CVS contract and now CVS blames the state’s small business independent pharmacists, who showed up en masse to protest the contract on behalf of their patients and the state.

But put CVS’ sore loser attitude aside for a moment. Review their statement, especially the subtly abusive and blame-shifting language.

“This situation has set a dangerous precedent, endangering the healthcare coverage of state employees … the fiscal solvency of the state employee and retiree benefit plan …”

Anyone who’s ever attempted to leave a toxic relationship knows what it’s like to be taunted with sentiments like these. CVS is effectively saying “Louisiana, this is a dangerous precedent you’re setting … if you leave you’ll endanger the family … you’ll ruin yourself financially …”

And it only gets worse as the statement goes on. “You’re being fiscally irresponsible! You’re letting your friends influence you when you should be listening only to us! There’s a pandemic out there! You’re already helpless from countless natural disasters! To leave now is shameful, you should be ashamed of yourself!”

And finally, “YOU are bullying ME!”

This is classic projection, a common practice among tormentors toward their tormentees, except here we’re talking about the actions of the 5th largest company in the U.S. toward a state caught between a rock and hard place.

Stay classy, CVS.

Publicly whining about the loss of a sale is not a good look, but it’s downright distasteful if the whiner is the corporation currently holding 2/3rds of Louisiana’s Medicaid pharmacy benefits contracts (CVS). Bear in mind, CVS generated revenues of $256 billion in 2019.

And then there’s the matter of calling small business pharmacy owners “greedy”. How they can possibly say that with a straight face when CVS CEO Larry Merlo’s 2019 compensation jumped 66% to over $36 million and is now 790 times that of his average employee’s compensation is the very definition of hypocrisy.

This is the same Larry Merlo who earlier this week bragged about how well the COVID-19 pandemic has played into CVS’ business model, making no apologies for moving into the physician space and heralding the sinister-sounding “omnichannel” as a new approach to healthcare in the retail space.

It’s worth noting that nowhere in CVS’ complaint did they mention Louisiana’s independent pharmacists turning down a $2-per-prescription dispensing fee — paid by the Office of Group Benefits (i.e. taxpayers), not CVS — in exchange for a “yes” to the contract. Nowhere do they mention dragging the state and local pharmacists into a week of contract negotiations focused solely on whether or not CVS would agree to follow Louisiana state laws.

Yes, you read that right. Because CVS had entered “if applicable” in the areas of the contract that dealt with following the law, it became necessary to negotiate following the state’s pharmacy and tax laws.

That’s the kind of business CVS is. Arrogant enough to think the laws may or may not apply to them; trigger happy and ready to spend $9000 or so on a full-page print ad in the state’s main newspaper addressed to the “People of Louisiana” to inform them they now face financial doom because their state declined a contract. Nothing like a little misleading public shame and fear mongering to shape the tide of public perception.

That, by the way, is an abuser playbook tactic called “triangulation” — adding a third party to a discussion in which they are not directly involved. Abusers, in their distorted thinking, can find ways to make any private discussion “relevant” to a public audience.

But that’s CVS, a classic bully and tormentor of anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their view of the world.

Why should they have to conform to the practices of professionalism and good business; show some character, good sportsmanship, or a little humility at the loss of a sale? Why should they consider what lessons could be learned or applied when they can unleash the full firepower of the finest legal, lobbying, and PR army money can buy? And then, turn that army on the small business pharmacies, taxpayers and employees of the State of Louisiana?

Why would they, when no one — not even the federal government — can truly hold them accountable? And so here we are, back where we started.

But the good news is, this is what it looks like when the other kids on the playground finally stand up to the schoolyard bully.



Pharmacists United for Truth & Transparency

PUTT is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating on behalf of independent pharmacy & fighting against PBM anti-competitive business tactics.