The Price of Health: More Major Retailers Offering Discount Drugs
Wal-Mart announced this week that it is expanding its discount generic drug program to an additional 12 states. That brings to 27 the total number of states where consumers can buy a 30-day supply of more than 300 generic medications for just $4. Other retailers are catching the generic wave: Target says it will match Wal-Mart's prices in 25 states, and Wegmans Food Markets, with 71 stores in five states on the mid-Atlantic seaboard, rolled out its own program, offering a 90-day supply of nearly 200 generic drugs for $11.99. Not to be forgotten, Kmart points to its existing drug discount program, in place since May, which offers a 90-day supply of nearly 200 generics for $15.
The more the merrier, say experts. Consumers can only benefit from enticements to go generic, since the drugs contain the same active ingredient as brand-name drugs but cost a fraction of the price. "We've been encouraging consumers to ask their doctors and pharmacists about generics," says Andrea Hofelich, spokesperson for the Generic Pharmaceutical Association. "These programs provide another incentive for them to do that."
The Wal-Mart generic drug program is now available to Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, and Neighborhood Market customers in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. The program covers many categories of drugs, from antibiotics to antidepressants. The Wegmans' program focuses on maintenance drugs. "When compiling our list, we looked at the prescriptions we see most frequently," says Jo Natale, spokesperson for the five-state chain, with stores in New York, Pennsylania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland.
Both Wegmans and Kmart offer 90-day rather than 30-day supplies of drugs. This allows customers to visit the pharmacy less frequently, say store representatives. However, some insurance plans allow members to fill prescriptions for only 30 days' worth of a drug. In those cases, the customer would have to evaluate whether the savings was enough to justify buying the drug and paying cash, says Wegmans' Natale.
In cases where the customer can use insurance, however, he or she will be charged either the insurance copayment or the store's discounted fee, whichever is lower, say store representatives.
Target's program is available in the same states as Wal-Mart's, except for Alaska and Vermont, where the chain doesn't operate stores. Customers should ask at their local stores for information about which drugs are covered. Kmart suggests checking with its pharmacists, as well, to find out if their drugs are in the discount program.
Mail-order prescriptions are not accepted, and customers who wish to take advantage of the discount drug programs must fill their prescriptions in person. Trekking down to your local store may be a small price to pay, literally, for cheaper drugs.