Wal-Mart announces a pilot program to sell generic prescription drugs for just $4 per prescription. If it succeeds, the plan could bring changes to consumers and the prescription-drug industry alike.
Generic drugs are a less-expensive alternative to name-brand drugs. But they still come at a cost: The average price to fill a prescription for a generic drug is $29, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. That compares with an average of $102 for name-brand drugs.
Starting Friday, Wal-Mart pharmacies in the Tampa, Fla., area will offer many generic drugs for $4 per prescription. The company plans to expand the program to all of Florida by January, and to other states in the months after that. Executive Vice President Bill Simon says the reason is simple.
"We hear stories all the time from our consumers" about the difficulties brought on by high drug costs, Simon says. "We can do something about that, and today we started to, by lowering the price of 291 of our generic drugs."
The company says the list will include generics that treat allergies, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, as well as certain antibiotics, antidepressants, and antipsychotic drugs.
Simon says the plan isn't an act of charity, as the company won't be selling the drugs at a loss. He says the prices result from the same strategy of mass distribution that Wal-Mart uses to lower other prices in its stores.
Kathleen Jaeger, head of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, says companies in the generic industry are ready for the change.
"These products have been on the market," Jaeger says, "and the price competition has been very rigorous, and providing these products at a reasonable price is very good for consumers."
The move won't help people who need brand-name drugs when generics aren't available. But it could offer a good way to hold some costs down, says Gail Shearer of the Consumers Union.
"Consumers are really suffering with the high cost of drugs, and this could give them a way to get access to drugs at a relatively affordable price," Shearer says. "Of course, we're eager to see what this precise list of drugs looks like, but this could provide affordable options for many consumers."