Wal-Mart Expands Low-Cost Drug Program

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Giant retailer Wal-Mart has been selling certain prescription drugs at an ultra-low price in Florida. Now, Wal-Mart pharmacies in more than a dozen other states will join the program.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

As NBC cuts costs, Wal-Mart expands its low-priced prescription drug program. It's already available in Florida and now several other states will join it.

NPR's Joanne Silberner reports.

JOANNE SILBERNER: The original plan had been to bring the $4.00 generic drug program to other states next year, but Wal-Mart Executive Vice President Bill Simon says the company has decided to move early.

Mr. BILL SIMON (Executive Vice President, Wal-Mart): When you hit a home run, you know it, and our customers have told us that this has been fantastic. We've gotten letters and phone calls from all over the country saying, please bring this to my state.

SILBERNER: So starting today, Wal-Mart pharmacies in Florida and 14 new states will offer the $4.00 deal. Wal-Mart will offer more than 300 of the several thousand generics on the market. The company has added a cholesterol-lowering drug and several of the newer anti-depressants to its original, more limited list.

Gary Claxton, of the Kaiser Family Foundation, says the plan will help some people.

Mr. GARY CLAXTON (Kaiser Family Foundation): Generics are not where most of the out-of-pocket costs are for people, so it may not have a real big impact on people's pocketbooks. But for some people who are taking several drugs and who can use generics, it's a really good thing.

SILBERNER: And, Claxton says, it will help Wal-Mart.

Mr. CLAXTON: So what they're doing here is giving up some of the money that they make in order to get people to come to the pharmacy for other things and they get them in the stores to buy other things.

SILBERNER: Wal-Mart's Simon confirms that the program has increased store traffic and it's selling more of the covered drugs. Wal-Mart's initial announcement hurt the price of stock shares in drug store chains such as CVS and Walgreens. It also prompted Target to announce that it would adopt a $4.00 generic plan, at least in Florida.

Joanne Silberner, NPR News.

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