The Wal-Mart company’s program to cut a few generic-drug prices could make medicines more afford… Prescription drug plan good

Wal-Mart is the 800-pound gorilla in the retail industry. So, it’s announcement last week that it would cut the price for some generic drugs to $4 per prescription understandably sent tremors through competitors. But for consumers, particularly for people who are uninsured or rely on Medicare, it could make their medicines a little more affordable.

Critics, such as the union-backed group Wake Up Wal-Mart, contend the pharmacy plan is an attempt to divert attention from its woeful record on providing health care to its workers.

Wal-Mart recently extended coverage to the children of part-time workers and introduced a lower-premium plan. Yet, the Wake Up Wal-Mart organization said about 46 percent of its workers still cannot afford the company’s health insurance because of high deductibles. Wal-Mart should do more to cover its workers while it is bringing down prescription costs generally.

The world’s largest retailer can afford it. Wal-Mart still will make money on each cut-rate, generic drug sold and could draw more customers to increase its overall prescripton-drug sales. The 90 or so generic drugs on Wal-Mart’s list — sold in variations that total about 300 combinations — typically wholesale for $2 to $10 per 100 pills. So, $4 for 30 pills, while less expensive even for those fortunate enough to have a prescription-drug plan, still is well above the break-even point for Wal-Mart.

It’s not only that Wal-Mart is dropping a few generic drug prices, but it could pressure other pharmacy chains, such as Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS, to drop their prices. Target already has announced it would waltz with Wal-Mart down this path step for step in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area where Wal-Mart is rolling out this program.

That’s what competitors accustomed to huge markups on drugs fear. But Americans are long overdue for a price cut on prescription medicines. Drug prices in America often are set beyond the means of a lot of seniors and uninsured families.

Wal-Mart’s $4 prescription for 30 pills might only lower the average consumer’s drug bill by a few dollars per order. Yet, as 75-year-old Robert Schorr of Cherry Hill told the Courier-Post last week, every little bit helps.

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