All eyes are turning toward Walgreens-ESI title bout

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — Round one between Walgreens and Express Scripts may have technically been a draw, but that still means Walgreens' appeals to benefit consultants and payers are still out there. Whatever the outcome, the Walgreens-ESI scorecard certainly has drawn plenty of eyes to a title bout that has become a very public battle for patients.

(THE NEWS: Walgreens, ESI dispute moves to arbitration following court decision. For the full story, click here.)

News of the issue certainly has reached all constituents by now. Walgreens earlier this month filed a white paper with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that caught the attention of Wall Street. And Walgreens has posted the why in its decision to leave Express Scripts' network, along with any impact that it will or won't have, at Ichoosewalgreens.com.

One thing is for sure: There is not going to be an overnight resolution to this. Analysts who had suggested this issue would be resolved soon after Walgreens and Express Scripts first separated from the negotiating table this past summer are now having second thoughts. Many of those analysts are now projecting that Walgreens and Express Scripts will, in fact, part ways come January.

Such being the case, the outcome of the coming round will only set the stage for next year, as that's when the gloves are expected to really come off. Because after Jan. 1, plan sponsors will be able to actually score a win or draw in this contest. That's when plan sponsors will best be able to measure whether their patients are better served (and cost efficiencies better realized) with one or the other — Walgreens alone or in another network, or an Express Scripts network sans one Chicago-based pharmacy.

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