CORE Challenges Walgreens Ending Drug Plan Services

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With a little over a week left in the year, the likelihood of Walgreens and Express Scripts coming to an agreement that will continue their partnership into 2012 is not great. The pharmacy announced in June that its relationship with the St. Louis, Mo.-based firm that manages drug plans for government agencies would come to an end effective Jan. 1.

Since June, when according to a press release from Express Scripts Walgreens first walked away from negotiations, Express Scripts members have been concerned about access to both services.

Walgreens has almost 8,000 locations across the country, which means many Express Scripts members have reasonable access to the pharmacy and the discounts of the service. If no agreement is reached, Express Script members will have to search for pharmacy alternatives to obtain their benefits.

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is concerned about how this decreased access will hurt minority and poor families and on Dec. 20 wrote a letter to the Black and Hispanic Congressional delegations expressing their concerns. The letter states: "Many within in the business community and business media estimate vulnerable populations could face up to a 20% increase in prices for vital medications. In a weak economy that has hit the minority community particularly hard, that increase will harm the health of countless people and could essentially be a death sentence for many.

"… This decision to terminate the partnership with Express Scripts, and the unintended consequences visited on vulnerable patients, would add to a disturbing narrative about the Walgreen's corporation. We seek your voice in strongly urging they reconsider this dangerous decision."

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According to Reuters, Walgreen's has reported losses in the fourth quarter of 2011 related to the loss of customers as people move their prescriptions to pharmacies still in partnership with Express Scripts. On Dec. 20, Walgreens published part two of a white paper entitled: The Value of Walgreens, providing its perspective on why this move would be ultimately be okay for Walgreens and its customers, but not to Express Scripts.

"This paper outlines why we believe we will win back most Express Scripts plan sponsors and members over time. This belief is based on a rich set of data and experiences including a proprietary employer survey that Walgreens recently commissioned with a diverse panel of 823 business executives who are involved in their company's pharmacy benefits decisions," the paper states.

Based on this document, it is the perspective of the company that businesses, pharmacy plan sponsors and members value Walgreens over the small amount of money that could be saved if Walgreens lowered their prices to be in line with Express Scripts expectations of it pharmacy partners. Walgreens sees it’s large number of locations, hours of operation and efficient services are points that will ultimately carry the day, whether or not an Express Scripts agreement is reached.

According to Reuters, while an agreement is not expected by the end of the year, talks have not completely broken down.