Walgreens Writes Rx For Express Scripts Customers

The dispute between Walgreens and Express Scripts over reimbursement rates is at the point where it will affect consumers’ wallets. The retailer, which appears to be losing the public relations war, has outlined a plan to assuage its customers and stem “the possible loss of billions of dollars in sales,” as John Kell writes in the Wall Street Journal.

Among the initiatives: Walgreens will offer a special discount on the annual membership fee for its Prescription Savings Club this month; it is boosting its pharmacist and consultant staffs, including adding call-center personnel; and it will offer coupons for discounted health and wellness products and gift cards to some Express Scripts members, Kell reports.

"In recent days, we are hearing more and more from our customers and patients that they are upset about losing access to Walgreens pharmacies as a result of Express Scripts' actions…," says Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson. “As a result, we are undertaking a comprehensive plan to continue serving our patients when possible, and in other cases help them make a smooth transition and minimize the disruption and inconvenience they may face.”



Express Scripts was responsible for about 88 million of the 819 million prescriptions filled at Walgreens in the last fiscal year.

The battle between the two companies became public in June when, as an Express Scripts spokesman would have it in a MarketWatch piece, “Walgreens unilaterally decided it would leave."

One of the perception problems Walgreens faces is that “a lot of folks don’t know what a P.B.M. [pharmacy benefit manager] is or what Express Scripts is,” as CEO Wasson tells the New York Times’ “Prescriptions” blogger Bruce Japsen. And, he points out, the retailer “has been unsuccessful at persuading most of their customers who have their drug coverage managed by Express Scripts to switch to another pharmacy benefit manager.”

Indeed, Express Scripts spokesman Brian Henry says “an overwhelming number of our clients” will be moving to other pharmacies and he tells Japsen that it has been “reaching out to members for months.”

Newspapers around the country are putting a local spin on the story.

“1 Million In Louisiana Soon Could Lose Prescription Coverage At Walgreens,” reads the headline in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Christopher Snowbeck reports in the St. Paul Pioneer Press that UCare, which provides coverage to Medicare beneficiaries and people in Minnesota's public health insurance programs, is the largest insurer using Express Scripts in the state. It informed about 235,000 members of the dispute; it’s clearly fingering Walgreens as the bad guy.

"Walgreens has made a choice here to not be in our network and take rates that are reasonable for other pharmacies," Gita Worcester, SVP of public affairs and marketing at UCare, tells Snowbeck, who writes that the retailer “argues that Express Scripts has offered below-market rates … and demanded more authority in determining when drugs are considered brand names or generic.”

A UPI story summarily declares:“Military No Longer Gets Drugs At Walgreens.” In a statement, the U.S. military's TRICARE pharmacy program says, "Most beneficiaries will have access to another network pharmacy very close to home as the contract with Express Scripts requires high access standards."

E.W. Scripps’ “Don’t Waste Your Money” columnist John Matarese writes on kypost.com that people who have an insurer that uses Express Scripts have two choices; Pay out of pocket at Walgreens (where generics are only $10) or change pharmacies.

“The good news,” he points out, is that “Kroger, CVS, and other pharmacies are now advertising, and inviting Walgreens customers to come over, promising to make the transfer as easy as possible.” 

And blocks of consumers are also expressing concern.

“National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) president Rev. Samuel Rodriquez’ letter to Walgreens CEO Gregory Wasson reads: “Our constituents will be hit with up to a 30% increase in the cost of vital medication should Walgreens no longer honor Express Scripts prescriptions. This would be devastating to our community."

The NHCLC says its 16-million member strong group may boycott Walgreens if the decision is not reversed, Adam Daley reports in Medical Daily.

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