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Wal-Mart begins offering $4 drug program in Detroit Lakes

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Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

On Tuesday, the Detroit Lakes Wal-Mart SuperCenter joined 3,810 other Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores across the country in offering the company's low-cost generic prescription program.

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Following a similar move by Target the previous week, Wal-Mart's 64 Minnesota stores began offering many generic, prescription drugs in a 30-day supply for just $4.

Though Wal-Mart, Inc., launched the program in Florida in September, with intentions to spread outside the state in January 2007, Wal-Mart President and CEO Lee Scott said Monday that customer demand led it to accelerate the rollout of the program.

"When we made our initial announcement in Florida back in September, we never imagined that in addition to our 3,800 pharmacies, thousands of others would join us in bringing more affordable medicines to our nation's seniors, working families and the uninsured," Scott said in a press release. "We are proud to have introduced competition to an area where it has been too scarce for too long. And, we hope others will continue to join us in making prescription medicines more affordable and accessible for all Americans."

With the announcement, Wal-Mart has expanded the program to include 331 generic prescriptions available for up to a 30-day supply at commonly prescribed dosages. The list is made up of as many as 143 compounds in 26 therapeutic categories.

According to www.rxlist.com, the list also includes 14 of the top 20 prescribed medications in the United States.

At least one area pharmacy owner, however, says the list of qualifying generic drugs isn't as comprehensive as it sounds.

Nathan Seip, owner of Seip Drug -- which operates pharmacies in Frazee, New York Mills and Henning as well as inside Central Market in Detroit Lakes -- said he feels Wal-Mart's $4 drug plan is "kind of smoke and mirrors."

"It's not commonly used drugs on their list," he said in a telephone interview, adding that many of the drugs on Wal-Mart's list are older drugs that are no longer commonly prescribed.

So in effect, the $4 price would only apply to "a small part of their business." Or at least, he elaborated, "I know it's a small part of our business."

However, he added, Seip Drug does have a policy of matching the price of any competing pharmacy in the towns where they currently operate a store, including Detroit Lakes.

Seip also noted that in today's market, "most prescription pricing is set by the insurance company."

"Close to 90 percent of our prescriptions dispensed are by insurance (pricing), so the insurance company is setting the price anyway," he continued. "Pricing isn't the prime determinant of where you get your prescriptions -- it's service."

But of course, insurance pricing (which usually involves a co-pay policy where those insured will pay a set price for certain drugs, with the insurance company to pay the rest) only applies to those who currently have health insurance.

Julie Idelkope, senior manager of public affairs for Wal-Mart in Minnesota, said Monday that the Wal-Mart $4 price applies whether the customer is insured or not.

"It doesn't make a difference (whether the individual is insured)," she said in a telephone interview. "This is one solution for our more than 46 million uninsured Americans."

Idelkope also noted that the list of 331 generic drugs on Wal-Mart's $4 list "represents more than 1 in 4 of the current prescriptions we dispense at stores across the country." This accounts for roughly 25 percent of total prescription drug sales.

The program has had some impact. Target announced earlier this month that it would begin offering some generic drugs at the same rate as Wal-Mart in all of its 1,287 pharmacies across the U.S.

Costco Wholesale Corp. has said it will match Wal-Mart's prices on generic drugs in markets where it does business.

Aside from Target and CostCo, however, many of Wal-Mart's other major competitors in the pharmaceutical business appear to share Seip's skepticism.

Both CVS Corp. and Walgreen Co., two of the nation's largest drugstore chains, have said they already price generic drugs at levels competitive with Wal-Mart, and do not see a reason to respond. Though declining to be interviewed, a corporate spokesperson for Thrifty White Drug -- which operates a store in Detroit Lakes' Washington Square Mall -- said Tuesday that his company agrees with this position.

A pharmacist with Kmart Pharmacy in Detroit Lakes (who asked that he not be identified by name) said his company has had a policy of offering a three-month supply of generic drugs for $15 since last May.

For a complete list of the 331 drugs covered by Wal-Mart's $4 price program, visit the company's online pharmacy at www.walmart.com/pharmacy.

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