What we Know About CVS Health Leader: Karen Lynch
The name Karen Lynch may not bring up immediate recognition. Or maybe it does. In the early days of the pandemic, Lynch became CEO of CVS Health, a long-planned transition for her to replace Larry J. Merlo in his retirement. Merlo oversaw decades of success and his career is most marked by his influential decision to remove cigarette sales from CVS pharmacies. Stepping into the CEO role made Karen Lynch the highest-ranking female chief executive on the Forbes 500 list. She came into the position early in 2020, making her navigation through the pandemic squarely on her shoulders. Karen Lynch has an undergrad degree from Cornell and MBA from Boston College.
She was raised by a single mother until the age of twelve when she lost her mother to suicide, at which point she and three siblings were raised by their mother’s sister. In her early twenties, Lynch lost her aunt to breast cancer, lung cancer, and emphysema. Lynch’s husband, Kevin Lynch, is a founder of the Quell Foundation, a non-profit with the aim to remove the stigma from mental health conditions and reduce suicide, overdose, and incarcerations of those with mental health diseases. (Wikipedia)
Before joining CVS, most of Karen Lynch’s career was predominantly in health insurance. Her rise in CVS was ushered in by her ability to bring Aetna under the CVS umbrella. When CVS acquired Aetna because of Lynch – CVS transitioned into “CVS Health”. Karen Lynch may stay out of the public eye, but she plans on leading CVS Health into a one-stop-all store that accomplishes every need for everyone. Essentially, it’s the Wal-Mart model for pharmacies. One small hiccup in this utopian universe where CVS streamlines all our medication needs: When the pharmacy and the insurance are the same company, it’s straight-up unregulated vertical integration.
The most iconic case of the US court system ruling against vertical integration is when the Hollywood studio system was destroyed on the grounds that the studios owned the writers, producers, actors, and distribution rights to every movie they made. Actos signed contracts with studios that lasted for years that stipulated how they did their hair and who they dated. It was ruled that Hollywood needed 3rd party distributors (ie independent movie theaters to choose what to show) because when studios owned the theaters it was a vertically integrated monopoly.
When it comes to drugs, the consequences of a vertical integration monopoly are a little more serious than Hollywood contracts. CVS customers will be incentivized towards an Aetna insurance plan, and the Aetna insurance plan will price gouge patients in favor of CVS.
CVS has been taken to court for not providing patients with available generic drug options by fraudulently claiming the affordable drug option “wasn’t on their insurance plan”. The following is an exert from a 2020 NYT interview with Karen Lynch:
NYT: When it comes to insurance, many people would say that more public options would go a long way toward reducing healthcare costs. Why is it that CVS is so opposed to things like Medicare for All, the public option, and other public health insurance measures? Karen: Let’s just look at Medicare Advantage, for example. That’s a program that is working, and it’s private-sector-led, even though it’s government-funded. With the private sector, you have more opportunities for competition and opportunities for innovation and more opportunities to create new paradigm shifts in health care. And so that’s why we’ve been opposed to these public options because we really believe that the private sector will continue to innovate.
NYT: But we’ve had decades of private control and competition, and it hasn’t gotten us the desired outcome. Why should people believe that more of the same is going to produce a different outcome? Karen: What makes you think the government would be better at it? Just look at the number of government programs that aren’t working as effectively as they should. So. Do we know Karen Lynch? No, we don’t. With her personal history, it’s understandable that she would use her success to change mental health care. But her personal history doesn’t outweigh how much CVS will profit by conflating mental health drug prescriptions. Especially in the age of telehealth, Karen Lynch's direction for CVS Health looks like a new vertically integrated monopoly where CVS Health covers your health insurance, can prescribe several types of medication at Minute Clinics or via telehealth that maximizes insurance profit gains, and then deliver the medications directly to the patient without a doctor or any third party oversight. Like any human, the motives of Karen Lynch are impossible for us to determine. Her intentions may be contradictory in nature. Karen Lynch is exemplary in her dichotomy of having come from tragedy to one of the most successful women in America today. On one hand, she is to be applauded for her achievement, but that's not without keeping a realistic eye on the repercussions of how she is personally reshaping American healthcare into even more of a corporate monopoly at patient's disadvantage.