SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – Big-box retailers Wal-Mart Stores and Kmart, pioneers in the push to cut consumer prices for generic drugs, have been raising prices for the most popular brand-name diabetes drugs, according to a new study.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer began in 2006 to sell some generic drugs in the United States for $4 per monthly prescription — a tactic since adopted by a number of other pharmacy operators.
“Since 2008, everybody has lowered generic prices close to the level of Wal-Mart,” said Dr. Ronald Tamler, an endocrinologist at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, and co-author of the price study. “But the differential in pricing for brand-name drugs is huge.”
His study, presented here at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association, found that the differential between pharmacy prices for generic diabetes drugs fell 60 percent between 2008 and 2010, compared with an increase of 113 percent for brand-name drugs.
The study also showed that Wal-Mart raised prices for the most-prescribed branded diabetes treatments by 32 percent between 2008 and 2010, while Kmart, a unit of Sears Holding Corp, raised its branded prices by 35 percent. The increase over the same two-year period was 21 percent at other pharmacies, which includes chain drugstores, mail-order firms and independent pharmacies, according to the study.
Neither company responded to a request for comment.
The $4 generics have become a “loss leader” for stores looking to draw new customers, Tamler said.
“The message used to be to send uninsured and underinsured patients to Wal-Mart to get a great deal on generic drugs,” he said. “Now, the message is to tell patients to shop around for their medications.”
(Editing by Paul Simao)
(This article has been modified to correct paragraph 5 to indicate that the price changes refer to the differential between pharmacies. Also corrects paragraph 6 to show that Wal-Mart and Kmart price increases were for brand-name drugs)
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