'It's creative and we certainly need the help': CVS, Walmart, Walgreens grow consumer presence with counseling services 

CVS Health, Walmart and Walgreens are expanding their healthcare presence to include cost-friendly, easily accessible mental health resources for consumers, The Wall Street Journal reported Aug. 29. 

"It's creative and we certainly need the help," Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told the Journal. "It's an interesting idea to post a mental-health resource at a place where people already are at." 

Eight things to know: 

1. As the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated mental health conditions and prompted more people to seek help for challenges such as addiction and depression, pharmacy companies Walmart, CVS and Walgreens have begun experimenting with offering counseling services in or near their retail stores, according to the report. 

2. Earlier this year, CVS stationed mental health providers at 13 locations in Houston, Philadelphia, and Tampa, Fla., as part of a pilot program. The company said it saw a surprisingly high return rate for customers who had an initial consultation and is now expanding the program to 34 locations in those areas. 

3. CVS charges $69 for a 30-minute counseling session and $129 for a mental health assessment. Based on the exam results, a customer could come back for a few therapy sessions or might get a referral for extensive services from a family physician, psychiatrist or other local resources, and people without insurance can get support from a community organization. 

4. Offering care in a retail setting makes it easier for people, Cara McNulty, president of behavioral health for CVS-owned Aetna, told the publication. "Often people don't know where to go, who to see and what they need to be seen for. When you really democratize access to care by putting mental-health support in a retail setting, it makes access easier for people." 

5. Walmart is implementing in-person counseling services at its Walmart Health clinics. The retail company currently offers in-person counseling at Walmart Health sites in Arkansas and Georgia and plans to expand to Illinois and Florida this year, the publication reported.  

6. An initial 60-minute mental health counseling visit at Walmart costs $60, according to the company's website. 

7. Walgreens is rolling out mental health offerings as part of its deal with primary care provider VillageMD. 

8. More than half of pharmacy customers said they have used health and wellness services at their pharmacy within the past year, according to a survey of more than 12,000 customers done by data analytics and consumer intelligence company J.D. Power. 

"Consumers are looking to these destinations as low-cost, convenient providers," James Beem, managing director of global healthcare intelligence at J.D. Power, told the Journal.

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