Walmart drug program cheaper for many Medicare patients

Walmart’s $4 generic prescription drug program ends up being cheaper for some Medicare patients than their own health insurance, according to a new study released Monday.

It’s more evidence that patients cannot always rely on their health insurance to get them the lowest prices for their prescription drugs, said Dr. Joseph Ross of the Yale School of Medicine, who led the study.

“Patients were paying more out of pocket when they were using their insurance than when they went to Walmart,” Ross told NBC News.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, documents that Walmart provides a better deal than the government’s health insurance plan for people over 65. And that is bad news for Medicare, because if people don’t take their drugs, whether for cost or for other reasons, they tend to get sicker and then end up costing even more to treat.

“Everyone’s talking about pharmacy costs these days,” Ross said. “We did this study in part because of all the discussion about pharmacy gag rules.”

Pharmacy gag rules prevent pharmacists from telling patients that they could save money on drugs, for instance by not using their health insurance.

Pharmacy benefit managers are the middlemen between drug companies and pharmacies, and some of those companies have agreements forbidding talk of discounts. But some states have also banned pharmacists from giving this information to customers.

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