Walmart expanded its $4 generic drug program to 14 additional states yesterday, including the states bordering DC — Maryland and Virginia. (There is no Walmart in DC.) The Washington Post compared Walmart’s price to the prices charged by Costco and retail pharmacies and there is clearly a savings. The knock on the Walmart’s program, as explained in the Post article, among others, is that the list of drugs eligible for the $4 program is limited and includes older generic drugs. From a health care policy perspective, I was struck by the following section of the Post article:
The American Pharmacists Association said it supports more affordable medications but cautioned that patients should consult medical experts about which drugs are right for them — and that they may not be the ones on the $4 list.”It starts to send a message that drugs are just another commodity,” said Kristina Lunner, acting vice president of policy and communications. “They’re very different.”
But is that really the case? The pharmaceutical industry’s direct to consumer advertising, which benefits the pharmacies, certainly presents drugs like commodities, notwithstanding the legal disclaimers and what’s more the direct to consumer advertising puts the doctor in the middle between the advertising and the patient. Of course, that’s the doctor’s responsibility and it strikes me that the doctor can fill that role in either situation. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. I am not a Walmart fan, but competition does benefit the economy.