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CVS CEO Karen Lynch on decision to carry the abortion pill, cybersecurity threats | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


Washington — Karen Lynch, CEO of pharmacy giant CVS Health, spoke this week about the decision to carry the pill for the first time in an interview with CBS News. 

Earlier this month, CVS and Walgreens announced they will dispense the abortion pill mifepristone in states where it is legally allowed. The move comes as Americans face an increasingly complicated health care landscape.

“As a company, our north star is that we support women’s health and that we are committed to making sure that women have access to reproductive health services, education, and FDA approved products,” Lynch said. “So that’s the decision we make because we know women need access to health.”

Both CVS and Walgreens previously told CBS News they became certified to dispense the pills following regulatory changes from the Food and Drug Administration. CVS said the pill will cost $79, but may be covered by insurance for some patients. 

Next week, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a case brought by anti-abortion rights medical associations and doctors seeking to suspend the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, which has been in place since 2000. 

How CVS responded to the UnitedHealth cyberattack

Last month, the UnitedHealth Group suffered one of the largest cyberattacks to ever hit an American health care system. The attack froze payments in medical facilities across the country and led to a delay in patients being able to get their prescriptions. The impact of the attack is still ongoing. 

Lynch said that after learning of the breach, she brought the CVS cyberteam together to look for vulnerabilities in their system and make adjustments. 

According to Lynch, CVS invests “[a] lot of money to make sure that we are protecting our data, our technology, and our systems,” and they are “doing the best we can to prepare for any potential cyberattacks.” 

When asked by CBS News why everyday products — like shampoo and toothpaste — are locked up in CVS stores, Lynch said the reason is “organized retail theft.”

“We’re trying to keep things safe and our employees safe,” Lynch said. “And sometimes you have to put things under lock. I don’t like it. And I know our customers don’t like it.” 

Lynch said she is keen on listening to customer feedback, telling CBS News she reads every letter written to her. 

“It takes a lot of time,” Lynch said. “But it gives me a pulse on what’s going on in our company.”

CVS seeks to branch out 

Under Lynch’s stewardship, CVS has made an effort to expand into primary care. It acquired Oak Street Health for $10.6 billion last May, and in 2022 entered into a deal to acquire Signify Health for $8 billion. 

She says she has also worked to make mental health services more accessible — a priority that is personal. Lynch was orphaned at age 12 after her mother, who suffered from depression and schizophrenia, died by suicide. 

CVS now offers mental health services in 14 states. As of 2019, there had been less than 200,000 virtual mental health visits through CVS, the company said. Since then, that number has jumped to 43 million. 

 “One of the areas that we’re very focused on is making sure that there’s access points so that people can get the care that they need,” Lynch said. “But the first thing we have to do is eradicate the stigma of mental health.” 

CVS navigates pharmacist burnout 

Last September, CVS pharmacists walked off the job at about a dozen stores in the Kansas City, Missouri, area, in protest of work conditions, such as staffing shortages. 

“We didn’t necessarily have walkouts, that was more of a headline,” Lynch told CBS News, going on to say that the company increased wages “by a billion dollars over the last two years,” and improved technology as well as “training and development” in an effort to increase its pharmacist staffing numbers.

Last month, CVS agreed to pay an approximately $1.5 million fine with the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy to settle 27 cases related to alleged violations at nearly two dozen CVS pharmacies — many of which the board said were connected to insufficient staffing levels.

“The allegations include improper drug security, dispensing errors, prescription delays, lack of general cleanliness, understaffing, and failure to report losses of controlled substances,” the state board said.

On addressing concerns about working conditions, Lynch said, “We’ll continue to evaluate what’s going on and make sure that we have the pharmacist and pharmacy techs at the pharmacy counter for our patients.”  

Lynch believes affordability is a No. 1 issue facing the health care industry today. 

“Health care’s complicated in this country,” Lynch went on. “We’re on a path to improve the affordability, to improve quality and lower cost. We’re not there yet…we’ve made meaningful progress. We need to make more progress.”

CVS CEO’s personal journey 

When Lynch was tapped to become CEO in 2021, she says it wasn’t her skill that was called into question, but her ability to look the part.

“They told me that I was too short, they told me that I was too blonde, they told me that I was petite and that my voice wasn’t deep enough in this day and age,” Lynch said. 

Fortune 500 last year named her America’s most powerful female CEO. Her new book, “Taking up Space,” chronicles her rise within the health care industry. 

“We shouldn’t be ashamed of our past experiences because you know, you’re going to have setbacks, you’re going to have experiences,” Lynch said. “They shouldn’t be life sentences on your future.” 

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