(CNSNews.com) - In the state of Florida, Wal-Mart 'rolled out' its new $4 prescription drug plan Friday, months ahead of schedule. The original date was January 2007.
Wal-Mart said in a press release that the reason for the early roll out of the drug plan was due to customer demand and requests from Florida state officials.
"This program enables us to respond to the needs of our customers who have struggled far too long with the high costs of prescriptions. Part of this is about saving these customers money, but even more importantly, it's about making sure they get the medicines they need to live healthier lives," said Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott.
Originally, there were 291 generic medications that would be covered. Now, the revised and newly released program covers 314 generic prescriptions, available for up to a 30-day supply at commonly prescribed dosages.
"The response in the Tampa Bay, Fla. test market has been considerable, with 36,000 new prescriptions filled in the ten days after the Sep. 21, 2006 launch. Customer savings on top-selling prescription medications in the program are projected to be significant," said Bill Simon, executive vice president of the professional services division for Wal-Mart.
WakeUpWalMart.com, a union-backed group, criticized the plan, accusing the retailer of using deceptive practices by labeling the same drug available in different dosages as a different drug.
"What they do is double count drugs for different dosages, take for example Amoxicillin. It's one drug, but they count Amoxicillin in 10mg, then Amoxicillin in 12mg, and Amoxicillin in 14mg; as three different drugs. That is the part that is incredibly disingenuous, playing numbers games with such a serious issue. To exaggerate it needlessly, makes no sense," the group said in a statement.
But that's not all that concerns the group, said Chris Kofinis spokesperson for WakeUpWalMart.com.
"How are you going to get the prescription, if you don't go to the hospital? Here's the point: there's nothing wrong with low-cost drugs. The problem is, is that it doesn't address the healthcare crisis in Wal-Mart stores, nor does it address the enormous burden being placed on taxpayers," Kofinis told Cybercast News Service.
The main issue that concerns WakeUpWalMart.com is Wal-Mart not providing healthcare for half of its employees, making it hypocritical for them to be seen in society as doing a service for working Americans in healthcare.
"Wal-Mart shifts its healthcare costs onto American taxpayers, because so many of its workers who are left uninsured by the company are forced onto public health care systems. The cost is estimated at 1.2 billion-that's what it costs the taxpayers nationally," Kofinis said.
But Simon said what Wal-Mart is doing will benefit customers.
"We're doing what we do best-driving costs out of the system so consumers benefit. And we're doing it in a way that introduces competition to an area where there hasn't been enough of it," said Simon.
It is generally known that generic prescription drugs contain the same high quality active ingredients as their "brand-name" counterparts. They are equally effective but cost a lot less. But who is supplying Wal-Mart with these low-cost generics?
According to a press release, "Wal-Mart continues to use the same suppliers as before the launch of the $4 generic prescription program."
Wal-Mart is being vague about exactly who its suppliers are, Kofinis said, claiming the generic drugs could be from overseas and may not have been given FDA approval.
"Wal-Mart does not want to say where these drugs are being made. That is something that is incredibly significant. Consumers should know where their medicines are being made - if they're being made in the United States, with the FDA regulations being what they are, or if they're being made overseas in places like China, Romania or India," said Kofinis.
"Wal-Mart can be both incredibly wealthy, and incredibly responsible. It doesn't have to be an either or," he added.
Calls to Wal-Mart for further comment were not returned at press time.
See Earlier Story:
Wal-Mart Offers Lower Prices on Generic Drugs (Sept. 22, 2006)
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-brief.
E-mail a comment or news tip to Meghan Mulhern.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.