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Drug deals: Shop around, seek advice from doctors

18-Nov-2006: FAIRMONT - Wal-Mart's program of offering some generic prescription medicine for $4 has come to West Virginia, prompting some pharmacists to protest the deal as others try to match the price.

At Kmart, said Mario Blount, a pharmacist at the Clarksburg location, the store will match Wal-Mart pill for pill and prescription for prescription, although that will put some limitations on what a consumer can buy.

"As long as the prescription meets the limitations, we can match it," Blount said Friday. "If the doctor writes the prescription for 90 pills and the prescription only pays for 30, then we can't do it."

Otherwise, as long as the drug is on Wal-Mart's list of 331 generic prescriptions being offered for $4 and at the correct quantity, then Kmart will match the price.

Wal-Mart announced the program in September and introduced it into Florida, noted Jim Davis, a senior manager of public affairs for Wal-Mart in Clarks Summit, Pa. On Thursday, the program was introduced into West Virginia and 10 other states, bringing the total number of states with the $4 program to 38.

"It's a complicated process as far as being able to have enough generic drugs to sell," Davis said. "We couldn't announce all 50 states at once because we wouldn't have had the supplies."

The process has required Wal-Mart to convince drug manufacturers to allow them to sell the prescriptions for $4, and that has been an ongoing process, Davis said.

"When we first made the announcement in September in Florida, there were 290 generic drugs on the list," he said. "Two weeks ago, when we added 12 states, the list was 314. Now it's grown to 331. The more success we have with this program, the more we're able to do and we can add more drugs to the list."

In Fairmont, one Wal-Mart pharmacist said, "The response has been positive."

Some states have laws that will require Wal-Mart to cut through some red tape to introduce the product, but West Virginia courted the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant.

"We've been talking with them since early October and working closely with them to get Wal-Mart to expand to West Virginia," said Shana Phares, Gov. Joe Manchin's pharmaceutical advocate, a position that was created in 2004. "We're happy for them to make us part of their next rollout. I believe the more options we can offer folks, the better."

Many senior citizens on Medicare have reached the "doughnut hole" in which they now have to pay the full cost of their prescriptions as they reach an annual spending limit. This program and the fact that some other pharmacies are working to match the prices or come up with a similar program will help, Phares said.

"When you hit the doughnut hole, you continue to pay premiums for a drug plan, but you have no coverage," she said.

Point Pleasant-based Fruth Pharmacy, which has stores as far north as Spencer, is one of the pharmacies trying to work with customers, as well as Target and Kmart, Phares said.

A representative at the Target pharmacy Bridgeport said the store could match the price on at least some of the 331 generic drugs that Wal-Mart now offers for $4, but referred further questions to a corporate media representative who did not quickly return a phone call Friday.

CVS Pharmacy in Fairmont also referred a reporter to a corporate representative who was not available.

Jonathan Rider, owner of Rider's Pharmacy in Fairmont, is among a group of pharmacists who have expressed doubts about the program, saying that the number and type of drugs offered is limited.

"What I caution people is that I don't think it's going to be all drugs. It's just going to be a select amount of them."

He noted that the Alexandria, Va.-based National Community Pharmacists Association has called the program a "bait-and-switch" tactic in an effort to get customers in the store even though the prescriptions they might want might not be available.

Wal-Mart's Davis, however, eschewed this theory.

"We've made the list public on the Web site (www.walmartfacts.com) and it's been in the news," he said. "We're not embargoing the list, and people don't have to come in and see it."

Also, he noted, the list is growing, and 14 of the top 20 generic drugs listed on www.rxlist.com are available for $4 at Wal-Mart, he said.

"This is about our customers being able to get affordable drugs," he said. "And some pharmacies are matching it, and some are offering different nuances."

Phares, of the governor's office, encouraged consumers to shop around and also consult with their doctors.

"That's the bottom line," she said. "It's just like the way you shop around for any consumer product."

Source: Times-West Virginian

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