CUTLINE 11070661 Bains Pharmacy

C. Todd Sherman

Tupelo pharmacist Jim Bain restocks medicine at his business last week. Bain thinks Wal-Mart's generic drug program is a marketing ploy.

By Sandi P. Beason

Daily Journal

TUPELO - Wal-Mart's new $4 generic drug program has its benefits, but small drug store owners hope their customers stay loyal.

"My stance on this - we are just going to keep on doing the things we do, taking care of customers and patients, give them the best price, the best service and do the things that independent pharmacists have always been known for," said Jerry Morgan, owner of Okolona Drug Co. "We think those things make a difference for customers."

Wal-Mart's $4 generic drug program is in 27 states, including Mississippi. It was first implemented in Florida last month.

The $4 covers a month's supply for 143 drugs in a variety of dosages and in liquid and solid forms. The price-cutting program is now available at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in those states.

Jim Bain, owner of a Tupelo pharmacy that bears his name, said he's been in business for 30 years, and he doesn't expect Wal-Mart's sales tactic to affect him.

"In my opinion, it's a marketing ploy to get people in the store," he said. "But how long will they do it?"

He acknowledged it's a good strategy but said his business tries to care for individual customers who come into his store.

"I am a small independent apothecary," he said. "I deal with people's medical needs. ... I told my employees when Walgreens and the two Super Ds came to town, Take care of people when they come through the door,' and we are still here."

James Randall, co-owner of Montgomery Drugs in Pontotoc, said he hasn't heard a lot of people talking about the generic drug program.

"I'm sure we could lose some customers," he said. "As for the long-term, I'm not sure. We just hope our customers will remain loyal because we try to do the best we can."

Bottom line

On the list of Wal-Mart's discounted drugs are medicines and vitamins used to treat asthma, cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure, among other things. It includes 14 of the top 20 prescribed drugs in the United States.

Consumers spent $53.2 billion on generic drugs last year, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

Wal-Mart's low-cost prescription drug program could be just another blow for small drug stores. Bain said the Medicare Part D program "is trying its best to ruin community pharmacies."

"With the federal government, Medicare and insurance companies, our profit potential is almost nil," he said. "Ninety percent of my business is from third-party insurers, whether it's Medicare or company insurance. Only 8 or 9 percent is cash. That's 90 percent I'll either take in or I won't."

Still, he said he feels 90 percent of his customers will remain loyal, despite the lure from Wal-Mart.

"The $4 plan will help someone without insurance," he said. "People transfer their prescriptions every day, for whatever reason. My customers, no one has transferred because of the $4."

He said he anticipates the larger drug chain stores soon will follow suit and lower costs on their prescription medicines. So far, Walgreens, CVS and Publix say they won't match Wal-Mart's $4 prices, and Kmart will stand with a plan to sell 90-day supplies of certain generics for $15.

Target, the nation's second-largest discount chain store, is cutting prices on a state-by-state basis.

"My feeling is, independent pharmacies always take care of the patients and we put the patients first," Morgan said. "We do, in my opinion, a great job of taking care of them, understanding their needs and doing what is necessary to keep them well and happy, at a fair price."

Contact Daily Journal reporter Sandi P. Beason at 678-1598 or sandi.beason@djournal.com

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