Ohio Wal-Marts Begin Selling $4 Prescriptions

Ohio Sam's Club and Wal-Mart stores now offer certain generic drug prescriptions for $4. Competitors recently announced their own plans.
Ohio Sam's Club and Wal-Mart stores now offer certain generic drug prescriptions for $4. Competitors recently announced their own plans.

Wal-Mart stores in Ohio today began selling certain generic prescription drugs for 4 dollars. Company officials say the reduced priced prescriptions represent about a quarter of the prescriptions dispensed in the United States. The company says it’s passing the saving on to customers. But critics of the giant retailer suspect other motives.

Following brief remarks by company officials at a Sam’s Club in west Columbus, state senator Steve Stivers took the microphone to praise Wal-Mart for its new 4-dollar drug plan.

“This program’s going to help all Ohioans,” Stivers said, “Especially senior citizens on a fixed income that today have to make difficult choices with their assets.”

The state, Stivers said, will also save money because Medicaid prescriptions filled at Wal-Mart now cost less.

About 150 different generics, including drugs for anxiety, diabetes, thyroid, and heart conditions, are available for $4 for up to a 30-day supply. There’s no special paperwork to fill out. If it’s on the $4 list, it’s available to anyone with a prescription. Deb Rogers is a Sam’s Clubs district manager.

“One of the things that we’ve always done in this company is to find ways to drive costs out of the system and pass those saving on to our customers,” Rogers says.

But a critic thinks it’s Wal-Mart doing business as usual.

“There’s a lot less to the plan than meets the eye. This is the classic retail bait and switch.”

Charlie Sewell represents the National Community Pharmacists Association, a group independent pharmacists.

“What this is about is creating a loss leader, something that Wal-Mart’s done in other areas of their business for a long time to get people in the store in hopes that they’ll get people to buy things they make a higher profit on,” Sewell says.

“Sewell says there are 8,700 generic drugs approved by the FDA and that the Wal-Mart list represents only 1% of the generics available.

“When you look at the list in detail, it tends to be the older, cheaper medications that are least prescribed, Sewell says. “So it’s not going to solve many problems for the average patient.”

But people at Sam’s Club this morning were in favor of the plan. Customer Lavonna Zimmer.

“I think it’s a good idea. Prescriptions are getting outta sight, man, there so expensive!”

Senator Stivers was also undeterred.

“Yesterday we didn’t have this program, and today we have this program. It’s going to help millions of Ohioans.”

Wal-Mart says customer demand caused the company to begin the $4 drug plan now in Ohio rather than its original start date in 2007. Competitors Giant Eagle and Meijer recently announced they will offer some generic prescription drugs at no cost.