“We think of it as creating a new front door to health care in America,” CVS Health’s chief executive, Larry J. Merlo, said in an interview.
The merger would establish a new way of delivering care, with nurses, pharmacists and others available to counsel people about their diabetes or do the lab work necessary to diagnose a condition, Mr. Merlo said. “We know we can make health care more affordable and less expensive,” he said.
Mark T. Bertolini, Aetna’s chief executive, said that by using CVS’s locations, the company can provide people with a better way of accessing medical care.
“It’s in their community. It’s in their home,” he said. He added, “CVS has the draw. People trust their pharmacist.”
It is the development of community-based clinics — capable of delivering care with the technology and health information available from both parties — that could prove to be the biggest change brought about the deal.
The hope would be consumers would not only be able to see savings by going to a retail store to check out a sore throat but also have better oversight of a chronic illness, such as diabetes or heart disease. They could get advice on how to lose weight, or undergo tests to monitor their health.
“If they can drive the adoption of the care delivery model, that’s a big deal,” said Ana Gupte, a senior health care analyst for Leerink Partners.
The merger agreement came as another factor weighs on the minds of all in the health care industry: Amazon, which has been rumored to be preparing for an entry into the pharmacy business. Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief executive, and his e-commerce juggernaut have already overturned many industries: book buying, retail shopping, groceries and Hollywood, using fierce customer loyalty and enormous reach as cudgels against incumbent players.
But CVS and Aetna have had a business partnership dating back seven years, and have steadily converged into similar visions of how the health care industry was evolving. Conversations about a deeper bond eventually crystallized into deal talks within the last two months, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions.
Although neither chief executive mentioned Amazon by name, both said that what they were creating was a compelling opportunity in and of itself.
“Chasing our competitors has never been a solution,” Mr. Bertolini said. He added, “Our competitors will do what they do.”