Walmart Wants Workers to Ask Docs for Generics, Samples Instead of Branded Drugs

Last Updated Jul 23, 2009 11:06 AM EDT

Walmart is asking its associates to suggest to their doctors "less costly" forms of treatment in a scripted list of questions that sometimes appears to be more in the interest of Walmart's finance department than that of the patient. Walmart recently cut half the branded drugs covered by its health insurance plan, one of the largest in the U.S. About 700,000 Walmart employees (or "associates," as the company calls them) received a packet of information regarding their new, reduced healthcare coverage in June. It becomes effective through July and August. In that packet, which a source provided to BNET, Walmart provided a sheet titled, "Important Questions to Ask Your Doctor." While much of the advice on it is common sense, several questions that Walmart suggests are focused on costs borne by Walmart's healthcare plan. The questions include:
How much will the tests cost?
What other, possibly less costly, treatment options are available?
Can lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, help my condition?
At the bottom of the leaflet are photos of a rainbow coalition of smiling Walmart associates, coupled with the slogan, "What's Your Story?" A fourth question relates directly to Walmart's bottom line:
Could you prescribe a generic prescription?
If a patient is prescribed generic Ambien it would not be covered by Walmart's plan and the associate would likely end up buying it for $4 cash at a Walmart store. But if a patient was prescribed on-patent Lunesta, another sleeping pill, then Walmart's plan pays for the scrip after the copay.

The final question is most ironic of all:
Do you have samples?
Samples, of course, cost Walmart nothing. But as drug companies only ever provide docs with samples of branded drugs, patients who receive samples will only get a taste of something that may no longer be on the menu.

Side note: Those who believe President Obama's healthcare reform plan is a communist plot to destroy our freedom to choose the luxurious healthcare plan offered by our employers may want to examine Walmart's healthcare reforms closely. Where Walmart goes, eveyone else follows sooner or later.

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