Wal-Mart extends plan to offer $4 prescriptions

October 06, 2006|By Bob Lamendola | Bob Lamendola,South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is extending its $4 generic drug program throughout Florida, saying strong response from customers - and Gov. Jeb Bush - warranted taking the plan statewide three months ahead of schedule.

"People lined up in our stores," Bill Simon, a company executive vice president, said after announcing the move in Orlando with the governor. "Others have asked, `Why didn't you do it in my town?'"

In addition, the retailing mega-giant will add a dozen more prescription medications to the program, bringing the list of $4 drugs to 143, including a cholesterol-lowering medicine, lovastatin, and a hormone treatment for breast cancer, megestrol.

Target Stores matched the offer and Wal-Mart's competitors called the $4 generics little more than a bid for publicity, saying their customers can buy those generics at comparable or lower prices. Walgreen, one of the nation's biggest drugstore chains, said it would not match Wal-Mart's prices.

Wal-Mart started the program Sept. 21 in Tampa, Fla., and estimated that customers would save millions on drugs that typically cost $5 to $30. In the first 10 days, the chain filled 36,000 new prescriptions, Simon said. Benefiting most are uninsured people and seniors who must pay all their drug costs because of gaps in Medicare's coverage.

The company also is accelerating its plan to expand the program nationwide, said Bill Simon, executive vice president of Wal-Mart's professional services division.

"I would expect that we would be in most of the U.S. this year. That's the plan," Simon told the Associated Press.

Pompano Beach retirees Herman and Helen Gerber, who already buy the bulk of their medicine at Wal-Mart, said they were looking forward to saving a little more under the $4 program.

"I have been paying $5 for generic drugs here, but it would be a blessing if all the prescriptions we use could be $4," said Helen Gerber, 82.

Walgreen Co. calculated what its customers pay for the drugs on Wal-Mart's list, most of which are older and cheaper. On average, seniors in Medicare's drug plan paid $3 for those drugs, and people with health insurance paid $5.30, Walgreen spokesman Michael Polzin said.

"It really isn't going to save much for them, and we don't see it having a significant impact on our patients," Polzin said.

Asked for a response, Wal-Mart's Simon said: "36,000 new prescriptions in Tampa."

CVS officials also have contended their prices compare to Wal-Mart's $4 offer.

Unions and Democrats have contended that Wal-Mart's cheap generics are its response to criticism that the company offers poor health care coverage for its employees, which has prompted legislation in several states.

Independent pharmacies that compete with Wal-Mart called the plan a publicity stunt to get more shoppers in the door while covering only a fraction of some 8,700 generic drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Bob Lamendola writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel correspondent Jaclyn Giovis and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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