By Martha Bebinger
If you're used to pulling into your local Walgreens to pick up a prescription, you'd better check the card you show the cashier. Roughly a million Massachusetts residents who use their Express Scripts card to fill prescriptions can no longer do so at Walgreens.
Many employers use a separate company to track prescriptions employees fill. Express Scripts is one of those companies. It stopped doing business with Walgreens on January 1, claiming that Walgreens' charges are 20% more than competing pharmacies.
Express Scripts spokesman Brian Henry says "our clients expect us to deliver a low cost high quality pharmacy benefit and having one provider whose rates are much higher than anyone elses runs counter to that."
Henry says switching pharmacies is as easy as taking your prescription bottle to another drug store and asking the pharmacist to call Walgreens.
Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin won't comment**** on whether the company is more expensive than other drug stores, but says the company offered to hold rates flat for the coming year. Polzin claims Walgreens does a better job of managing costs than competitors so that dropping Walgreens "may not provide any meaningful cost savings" for Express Scripts.
Walgreens is offering incentives and coupons to stem the loss of customers to CVS, Rite Aid and other competitors.
Walgreens filled 88 million prescriptions nationwide for Express Scripts customers in fiscal year 2011. The nation's largest pharmacy chain will be under increasing pressure to resolve the dispute with Express Scripts if a proposed merger with Medco Health Solutions is finalized later this year.
Do other pharmacy benefit managers restrict where members can go to fill prescriptions?
****Update 1/06 - comment from Michael Polzin
"We believe we are within 1 or 2 percent of the cost of the rest of the industry on
average. And when you consider that we dispense inexpensive generic medications more often than the industry average, a pharmacy network without Walgreens in many cases will actually be more expensive than a network that includes Walgreens."
This program aired on January 5, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.