The Year’s Biggest Story?

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As the final days of 2017 approach, we’re intrigued by the year-end lists that the media rolls out. While we can’t weigh in on best movies, songs or TV shows, we do have an opinion about the biggest events in optical.

Here are a few of the news stories that are on our short list: the planned merger of Essilor and Luxottica, the formation of Acuity Eyecare Holdings by Riata Capital and the concurrent acquisition of three regional eyecare businesses, and, most recently, the $372 million initial public offering of National Vision Holdings. All big and all important for the optical business.

Our pick for the biggest story of the year, however, is the announcement of a CVS Health-Aetna merger. Neither of these companies are major optical players, but their combination could have significant ramifications.

Yes, CVS-Aetna is ripe with opportunity to re-imagine the drugstore by adding in a menu of services, including vision care. CVS has 1,100 Minute Clinics, or about one clinic for every 10 drugstores. The optical and audiology centers CVS has begun testing have even less penetration. But this could change.

According to Mark Bertolini, Aetna’s chairman and chief executive, the rationale for the deal begins with the fact that 60 percent of Americans don’t have a regular doctor, and another large chunk of the population “can’t get into see the doctor they want to see.” Adding more convenient health services for a wide swath of the population is one of his goals.

Even if CVS were to add optical departments to 25 percent of its stores over the next five to 10 years, it would be an addition of about 2,500 optical retailers to the market, which is significant. So while other news stories may have gotten bigger headlines, the CVS-Aetna deal may have greater impact.