Walmart Keeps Pushing Healthcare Initiatives, No Matter What Retail Thinks

Last Updated Sep 17, 2009 8:41 PM EDT

When it takes on an issue, Walmart does so in a fully realized manner and inevitably incorporates it into retail operations, so it's not surprising that the company brought up the healthcare debate currently centered on the United States Congress in announcing an expansion of its low-cost prescription drug programs.

In a statement, Walmart noted that while debate continues to roil Washington, it is taking action as part of its commitment "to doing its part to reduce the cost of health care for everyone."

That commitment comes in the form of a free delivery service for prescription drugs, which represents another expansion of the company's original program of providing 30-day supplies of 300 such medications for $4 through its store pharmacies. In this case, customers nationwide with a valid prescription can receive a 90-day supply of eligible drugs for only $10 by calling a toll free phone number, 1-800-2REFILL or visiting walmart.com/pharmacy, where they also can find a complete list of the eligible medications.

The medicines come in the mail at no charge and the program asks for no club or enrollment fees, which are an element in some low-cost retail prescription drug programs.

Mail maintenance prescription programs are a big deal to pharmacy operators, as they lock a customer into a relationship with the retailer who can provide the range of medicines a customer needs and ancillary services as well. For example, Walmart, as part of an array of web-based services, offers seniors help in determining Medicare Part D eligibility and finding associated prescription drug plans. Many drug chains provide more elaborate services. Walgreens, for example, is a pioneer in electronic prescriptions that allow doctors to order drugs directly without paper scripts. In March, Walgreens pharmacies set a company record, filling 3.1 million prescriptions electronically, about 15 percent of all the drug store chain's eligible prescriptions and a 211 percent increase versus the year-earlier month.

For its part, Walmart launched its $4 prescription drug program in 2006, and expanded the effort to more and new classes of medication in 2007. The in-store program also offers 90-day pharmacy drug supplies for $10. Additionally, Walmart has dipped its toe into the benefit management area, purchasing prescription drugs for Caterpillar and providing its employees with discounted prices on their purchases.

Walmart will build on the central element of the newly launched program and already is pointing out that it offers 3,000 other low-price branded and generic prescriptions that are eligible for free mail delivery.

Of course, Walmart famously broke with the retail on healthcare, supporting reform and provoking criticism from within its own industry. The company evidently sees a new avenue of development within the sphere of its low-cost approach to sectors where price matters most to consumers, and the retailer appears determined to forge forward, letting the debate over healthcare carry it along.