The oral antibiotics, the most commonly filled at the chain's pharmacies, will be available at no cost to anyone with a prescription as often as they need them, Publix Chief Executive Charlie Jenkins Jr. said. Fourteen-day supplies of the seven drugs will be available at all 684 of the chain's pharmacies in five Southern states.
The prescription antibiotics available under the program are amoxicillin, cephalexin, penicillin VK, erythromycin, ampicillin, sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim and ciprofoxacin.
Gov. Charlie Crist went to a suburban Fort Myers store to help the company make the announcement and to praise the Lakeland-based employee-owned company, one of the dominant retailers in the region.
"It can't be any more affordable than free," Crist said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Kmart and other retailers already offer discounted drug programs. But Publix Super Markets Inc. officials say the company is the first large regional chain to offer certain drugs at no cost. In addition to Florida, the company operates stores in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.
With health care costs one of the biggest challenges facing many Americans, Crist said that the private sector's involvement in the solution was "a great trend."
Jenkins acknowledged that increasing pharmacy sales was a part of the company's motivation, but said the company also wanted to contribute to making health care more affordable.
"Frankly, we're interested in building our pharmacy business," said Jenkins. "But moreover, we want to help the citizens of our state have affordable health care, and we thought this was just a good start in doing that."
Barbara Lemay, who was shopping in the Publix where Crist and the company made the announcement, said it would be a good start for her.
"I've been on antibiotics occasionally, and to get anything free with the price of medications today is phenomenal," she said. "People just can't afford the medications. You have no insurance, you're looking at hundreds of dollars a month."
Lemay, who gets Social Security benefits, said if she is prescribed one of the antibiotics she definitely would go to Publix to get it, and said it could save her "thousands of dollars."
Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, secretary of Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration and a pediatrician, said many of the antibiotics are prescribed for children, and he noted that Florida has 3.6 million uninsured people and many who have some insurance but no coverage for prescription drugs.
"So I hope (Publix stores) are ready," Agwunobi said, predicting a heavy response.
Wal-Mart last year started offering hundreds of prescription drugs of all different kinds, ranging from diabetes medication to high blood pressure drugs, for $4. It hopes it can draw more shoppers into its stores who may come for prescriptions and then stay to buy in other departments.
Kmart, a unit of Sears Holding Corp., began last month offering a 90-day supply of generic drugs for $15. Now, more than 300 drugs are included in that program.