Courtesy of an article in The Tennessean, we just learned that WalMart has expanded $4 discount generic drug program to offer some of those same drugs for $10 for a 90-day supply. A list of the prescription drugs covered by the program can be found here. In addition, Walmart will offer certain prescription drugs for women for $9 for a 30-day supply, such as the osteoporosis drug Fosamax and the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen. The $4 program also covers certain Over-the-Counter drugs.
WalMart isn’t the only chain store offering discount prescriptions on generics. Other stores with low-cost ($4, $5, etc) generic programs include (click the link on each store’s name to go to their discount program’s page):
- Target ($4 for 30-day supply)
- Kroger (More than 300 generics for $4)
- Walgreens ($12.99 for 90-day supply of 300 generics)
- KMart ($15 for 90-day supply on select generics)
- Randalls ($4 for select generics)
- H-E-B (500 generics for $5, 90-day supply for $9.99, 500 brand names for $50)
- RxOutreach is a program run by Express Scripts that offers 90-day supplies of many generics for $20-$40
One thing to keep in mind about all of these programs is that the numbers of generic drugs supposedly covered can seem much higher than it really is – for instance, one drug at different dosages might be listed 4 or 5 times — one for the, say, 10 mg pill, and another for the 20 mg, 30 mg, 40 mg etc. That would be counted as 4 drugs when it’s really one.
Also, some of the drugs on these discount program lists are drugs that are very rarely prescribed anymore. The stores have an incentive to inflate the “number” of drugs that they offer discounts on, and they do this by listing different dosages as separate drugs, and by including drugs that no one really uses any more. It doesn’t affect the usefulness of the discount if you can take advantage of it, but it’s a bit deceptive as it makes the program seem larger than it is.
In an article in the Houston Chronicle, Paul Beahm, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president of general merchandise for pharmacy, said:
“This is not a loss leader for us. We’re in business to make money, but we also know health care is one of the top three issues consumers think about. We don’t want to move costs around. We want to eliminate costs from the health care system. That fits with our everyday-low-price philosophy.”
This is probably not very reassuring to WalMart’s employees, less than half of whom had health insurance (43%) through WalMart in January 2006. (See here for that statistic. If any readers know of more recent stats, please post in the comments). If WalMart was serious about “eliminating costs from the health care system,” they’d make their health insurance more affordable and available to their own workers.
Also, WalMart’s claim that this is not a loss-leader (a product sold at or below cost to bring people into the store) is a bit disingenous, given that, according to the article mentioned above in The Tennessean:
[Tennesse has a] state law that bars Wal-Mart from charging below costs for medications and generic versions of drugs. Wal-Mart had been selling some of the $4 drugs here [Tennesse] instead for $9 to comply with state law.”
This means that there are drugs on the $4 list that WalMart is selling below cost. And it’s safe to say it’s not doing so to be charitable. There’s a reason that the pharmacy is usually at the back of the store in stores like WalMart — they know that most consumers will probably buy something else while there to pick up a prescription.
These discount programs can save consumers money, particularly those without insurance, and can encourage people to use generics. But they’re not a substitute for ensuring that people actually have health care coverage. What good is a $4 prescription if you can’t afford to go see a doctor? And what comfort is a $4 prescription to the millions of employees of WalMart and the other chains with discount programs who don’t have insurance? Finally, these discount programs put yet more pressure on small independent pharmacies, many of whom are struggling to stay afloat.
The Bottom Line? Use these programs if they will save you money, but still shop around, and be skeptical. And consider whether the store that’s offering the discount is doing more harm than good, on balance. You might pay a bit more at your local independent pharmacy ((but you might not – you can always see if your local independent pharmacist can match the Chain’s discount price or come close) But often those independents offer more personalized service, and by shopping there, you’ll be keeping your money in your community.