Access to mental health services has been especially difficult for many people over the last year, as therapists had to close their doors due to the pandemic. Couple that with the number of people saying they struggle with symptoms of depression or anxiety quadrupling since the pandemic began, and the magnitude of the issue becomes more apparent.
CVS Pharmacy is trying to fill this gap with a pilot program that brings mental health services to some of its retail stores, including a dozen locations in Houston, Philadelphia and Tampa. By opening these services in locations that boast diverse communities, CVS is attempting to make these services easier to access in areas where it can be difficult to find mental health care.
In an effort to make mental health care more accessible -- both financially and availability -- the counseling services are often covered by insurance.
In contrast, many therapists do not accept insurance, which leaves customers paying for mental health services out of pocket -- often costing up to $250 per visit.
Offering onsite care to its customers is not a new idea for CVS. Its HealthHUBs program, which provides services such as urgent care and wellness products, is currently in place in 650 of its 10,000 stores. CVS also offers diabetes screenings, eye exams and vaccinations at these locations, making health care services more accessible to consumers.
The CVS therapy model allows patients to access counseling services via video chats or on-location. The in-store counseling has the benefit of being in the same building as a CVS urgent care clinic, a nurse practitioner and a pharmacy.
"To be able to say I can refer you within this clinic with a nurse practitioner or you can get your medication in the same place where you're getting your mental health services — it's like a one-stop shop," said Eve Townsend, a licensed social worker and therapist working at CVS.
By providing this level of accessibility, CVS and other companies -- like Walmart -- are offering much-needed services to local communities, with the hope of driving down costs over time.
However, if out-of-pocket expenses remain high for consumers, "it's not going to bridge the gap as much we would like," said Vaile Wright, senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association.
CVS has negotiated with multiple health insurers to reduce patients' costs, including covering the cost of care for patients insurer by Aetna.
CVS plans to expand the mental health pilot program from 12 to 34 stores this year.