Independents blast Walmart-Humana plan

ALEXANDRIA, Va. The independent pharmacy industry is crying foul over a new plan by Walmart and insurance giant Humana to steer seniors to Walmart stores via a steeply discounted Medicare Part D prescription drug plan that gives preferred rates to Walmart pharmacy customers.

In a fast and furious response to Friday’s launch of the Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx Plan, the National Community Pharmacists Association blasted the retail giant for what it asserted is a heavy-handed attempt to gain market share through its massive financial firepower. The new PDP, NCPA asserted, “imposes higher co-payments on seniors who choose to continue using their trusted local, community pharmacy.”

Walmart and Humana jointly unveiled the Preferred Rx Plan this morning, roiling a Medicare Part D prescription drug market that currently serves some 18 million seniors who rely on PDPs for their prescription services. The new plan offers Medicare beneficiaries a single national monthly plan premium of $14.80 –– less than half the national prescription drug plan average, according to some estimates –– and a co-pay of just $2 on many generic drugs.

The caveat: Those rates are only offered through Walmart, Sam’s Club and Neighborhood Market pharmacies.

NCPA president Joseph Harmison was incensed. “This is simply Walmart’s latest ‘loss leader,’ intended to bring more people through its doors at the expense of patient care and quality customer service,” he charged Friday. “Patients taking a brand-name drug or [those] who can’t or don’t want to take a therapeutic substitute for the drug their doctor prescribed may see little, if any, savings."

“What’s more, patients are being financially coerced to get their medications at Walmart stores, which make up less than 7% of all of the retail pharmacies in the United States,” Harmison added. “As NCPA reviews the Walmart plan, we intend on reading the fine print. For example, we want to ensure the plan adheres to Medicare’s marketing and plan guidelines. We also will learn more about how the plan may disadvantage other pharmacies and their patients and will respond accordingly.”

NCPA’s president charged that Walmart’s pharmacy customers have to put up with long waits and “assembly-line service,” particularly to take advantage of the retailer’s $4 generic drug offer. “By contrast, independent community pharmacies earned among the highest customer satisfaction scores of all pharmacies” in the most recent customer survey from J.D. Power and Associates, Harmison asserted. “That’s due in large part to the sterling customer service and competitive pricing that these local pharmacies offer.”

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