Wal-Mart's $4 Drug Plan: Good for Consumers, Bad for Nationalized Health Care Advocates
While ABC and NBC greeted the announcement of $4 generic drugs at Wal-Mart Stores with a mostly positive reception on their September 22 programs, The New York Times took a Debbie Downer approach to the development.
â€śThis initiative could lower prescription drug prices nationwide. It is already happening with Target (NYSE: TGT) now vowing to match Wal-Martâ€™s prices. This is great news for you the consumer,â€ť asserted ABCâ€™s Elisabeth Leamy on â€śGood Morning America.â€ť Leamy noted that while only 291 of some 7,000 generic drugs will get the $4-a-month price tag, the drugs Wal-Mart has selected are commonly prescribed generic drugs.
On CBSâ€™s â€śEarly Show,â€ť Anthony Mason gave examples, naming metformin and lisinopril â€“ medications for diabetes and high blood pressure respectively â€“ as drugs that could save patients hundreds of dollars yearly.
The New York Times, however, sought to downplay the significance of the development, with reporters Michael Barbaro and Reed Abelson complaining in their September 22 news analysis piece that â€śwhile uninsured people should benefit from the program, those with insurance may save only a dollar or so.â€ť
Thatâ€™s not quite accurate. As ABCâ€™s Leamy reported, most insured consumers could save from $6-$14 per generic drug by paying out-of-pocket in lieu of their usual $10-$20 co-pays. Indeed, said Leamy, Wal-Mart and Target, by offering some drugs lower than most insurance company co-pays, would â€śput pricing pressure on insurance companies.â€ť
While the Times reporters emphasized the small proportion of generic drugs to be priced at $4, CBSâ€™s Anthony Mason noted that â€śanalysts expect Wal-Mart to expand the number of drugs in the programâ€ť after the new pricing structure is implemented next year.
Mason presented a more positive take on the drug pricing news than did Barbaro and Abelson, but the CBS reporter joined the Times in highlighting a strong critic of the plan: Ron Pollack of the liberal Families USA advocacy group.
Pollack told Mason that $4 generic drugs were â€śclearlyâ€ť a public relations move â€śto blunt the deserved criticism for the miserable health coverage that Wal-Mart provides its employees.â€ť The Times quoted similar criticism from Pollack and labeled his group â€śa Washington consumer group that has often criticized Wal-Martâ€™s health care offerings.â€ť
Yet neither Mason nor the Times writers revealed Pollackâ€™s ideological commitment to socialized health care, as evidenced by his support of the 1994 Clinton nationalization plan that faltered in Congress.
In the Aug. 27, 1994, New York Times, writer Robert Pear celebrated â€ścrusaders for universal health insurance coverageâ€ť like Pollack whose â€śdream had been deferred but would not die.â€ť
At that time, Pollack told Pear, â€śWhen one tries to achieve comprehensive, significant social changes â€¦ those things donâ€™t happen overnight.â€ť