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More States Get Wal-Mart $4 Generic Drug Program

By Michael Teitelbaum, CQ Staff

October 19, 2006 -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., announced that as of Thursday it's expanding its $4 generic prescription drug program to 14 more states in addition to Florida.

The program makes up to 30-day supplies of 314 generic prescription medicines available to its customers and employees for $4, whether they are insured or not. The program initially was launched in the Tampa area on Sept. 21 and expanded to the entire state of Florida on Oct. 6. Originally, the national rollout was to begin in 2007.

The 14 new states receiving the program are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont.

Bill Simon, Wal-Mart's executive vice president of the Professional Services Division, noted that 88,235 new prescriptions had been filled in the 10 days after the statewide Florida rollout and that customer demand led them to accelerate the launch.

Currently, initial $4 prescriptions are not available by mail order or online, but refills can be ordered online or by telephone only for in-person pickup in Florida and the other states. Simon said "the company will continue to push for expansion to other states as expeditiously as we can."

Charlie Sewell, senior vice president of government affairs at the National Community Pharmacists Association, however, called the program "a classic bait and switch," adding that "if you look at the $4 list of drugs that about 99 out of 100 drugs are not covered." He said, "They are trying to hoodwink patients into believing they can get cheap drugs at Wal-Mart. But when they take their prescriptions in, they will be seriously disappointed."

Opponents of Wal-Mart's idea also have noted in the past that the corporate giant was losing money on the medicines but making up the loss on other purchases shoppers made while buying prescriptions.

Simon disputed that claim, saying that Wal-Mart is not filling medicines below cost and they're making a profit on each one.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry's chief trade association, said that "we believe Wal-Mart's new initiative, which provides mostly older, generic drugs at low cost, is one way to improve access to some medicines for some people."

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