Pharmacists slam Wal-Mart's new Medicare drug plan

The community pharmacist lobby is blasting Wal-Mart's latest Medicare prescription drug offering, saying the superstore's joint venture with Humana will penalize seniors who want to buy their drugs from local pharmacies.

"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," National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) President Joseph Harmison said in a statement. "[P]atients are being financially coerced to get their medications at Walmart stores which make up less than seven percent of all of the retail pharmacies in the U.S."

On Friday, Walmart and Humana announced that they'd joined forces to offer seniors a new Part D plan in 2011. The Humana Walmart-Preferred Rx Plan boasts a national monthly rate of $14.80 per month, but co-payments will vary depending on where seniors purchase their drugs. In-store generic co-pays will start as low as $2 in "preferred" pharmacies, including Walmart and Sam's Club, the company said Friday, but rates will be higher in other shops.


"We believe no one should have to choose between buying their groceries or their medications,” John Agwunobi, head of Wal-Mart’s health and wellness division, said in a statement. 

But the local pharmacists maintain that incentivizing seniors to buy their drugs at the big chains will undermine the patients' choice to shop where they please. 

"The relationships independent pharmacists have with their patients," Harmison said, "greatly encourage better patient adherence to their prescribed medication regimen, which can lower overall health care costs."

The most recent national pharmacy survey from J.D. Powers and Associates has added fuel to the concerns. Released last month, that study found that, relative to other mass merchandisers, Walmart stores ranked last in overall customer satisfaction in the retail category, and tied for last with several other stores in the mail-order category.