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Anthem, Walmart, announce Medicare Advantage over-the-counter drug joint program

Eligible consumers will be able to use their over-the-counter allowance on medications and health-related items.

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

Anthem and Walmart are collaborating on over-the-counter drug access for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries in a move expected to improve seniors' access to medications and reduce out-of-pocket costs.

The Anthem-Walmart program, launching in January 2019, will enable consumers who are enrolled in an Anthem-affiliated Medicare Advantage plan to use their over-the-counter plan allowances to purchase medications and health-related items such as first aid supplies, support braces, and pain relievers at Walmart's 4,700 stores and on Walmart.com.

More than 90 percent of Americans live within ten miles of a Walmart. The retailer is also offering free two-day shipping on Walmart.com orders of $35 or more.

Nearly a quarter of married seniors and four out of 10 unmarried older adults rely on their Social Security benefits, which average  $1,400 a month, for at least 90 percent of their income, according to information from the Social Security Administration provided by Anthem.

"We believe that programs like this can make a tremendous difference for healthcare consumers who often live on a fixed income or are managing chronic medical conditions," said Felicia Norwood, executive vice president and president, Government Business Division for Anthem.

Better management of chronic conditions has increasingly become a goal for Medicare Advantage insurers as baby boomers age into retirement and face more complex health issues.

About a third of Medicare members are in an MA plan and that number is expected to grow as government and insurer incentives steer more consumers into the private plans.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, signed into law in February, will allow MA insurers to offer supplemental non-medical services to members such as minor home modifications to accommodate walkers or wheelchairs and home-delivered meals that target the diet needs of those with diabetes or chronic heart failure.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is expected to issue policies around the law when it sets MA rates in December.

Regular Medicare does not support these non-medical benefits.

MA plans outperform traditional Medicare for the chronically ill, an Avalere study shows.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com