Friday, October 20, 2006

Wal-Mart Rx Redux

Recently we posted on Wal-Mart, one of our favorite targets (not to be confused with Target) partly because of their visibility. In the last few years Wal-Mart has been the focus of quite a few news stories, some favorable, some not.

Many of the stories seem to revolve around their workers, and how much (or how little, depending on your perspective) the company contributes towards the cost of health insurance.

But lately WM has put some positive spin on a topic that is near & dear to our hearts . . . the price of prescription meds. The American public are, on average, very poor consumers when it comes to health care dollars. About 40% of us are covered by employer plans that are (usually) heavily subsidized by tax breaks and employer contributions. Add to the mix the number of plans with HMO type benefits featuring low copays and you have a recipe for abuse at the consumer level.

Employees who see only a nominal deduction from their paycheck are dumbfounded when confronted with a COBRA premium for families that is in some cases equivalent to a mortgage payment. Even more so when they refill their meds and have been insulated from the REAL cost of drugs by a ridiculously low copay.

The fact is, medication is OVER prescribed as evidenced by many studies. One recent one found NO SIGNFICANT DIFFERENCE in toddlers started on antibiotics immediately after diagnosis of an ear infection vs. those who waited 3 days before treating the infection.

Other studies have shown that generics and older meds are just as effective in many cases in treating illness but at a fraction of the cost of the latest & greatest concoction.

Now Wal-Mart is out to prove a point (and perhaps gain market share) by lowering the cost of many generics to just $4. The test program started in Tampa and has now spread to 14 states.

We applaud this move and hope other retailers will follow suit. This type of arrangement will accomplish a lot in curing copay dependency.

Thanks to Marshall Manson (not to be confused with Marilyn) for tipping us on the expansion beyond the Tampa market. In fairness to our readers, Marshall is a publicist with Edelman whose clients include Wal-Mart.
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