NONFOODS: Rx for discount drug programs

It's almost a common practice for supermarket pharmacies to pitch in and help their shoppers offset the increasing costs of health care, and most do this through some sort of discount prescription drug program.

As more retailers continue to climb on board with these programs, it's possible that they can become so common that they no longer serve as a differentiator, grocers will need to give consumers another reason to stick with their stores.

A handful of innovators have already taken this step, enhancing their discount drug programs in a variety of ways to add value -- and a unique twist -- to the way they deliver health care to their shoppers.

Abingdon, Va.-based K-VA-T/Food City does this by killing two birds with one stone via its "Fuel and Pharmacy Bucks" savings program, which began Nov. 23 and runs through the middle of this month.

"As rising fuel prices continue to present a challenge for the family budget and place additional strains on food expenditures, we felt compelled to provide some much-needed relief for our shoppers," says Steven C. Smith, Food City president and c.e.o. "Customer service is the top priority at Food City. We live, work, and educate our children in the communities where we operate, and we are very aware of the effect climbing fuel costs are having on the families we serve."

The program was developed to help shoppers save money on two areas of increasing cost: prescription drugs and fuel. Food City ValuCard shoppers have two ways to earn fuel/pharmacy bucks, which can be redeemed at the chain's pharmacies and gas stations. For every $10 in Food City store-brand purchases (which include the Food City, Food Club, Full Circle, Paws, ValuTime, Top Care, Academix, Domestix, Electrix, Easy Clix, World Classics, and Dining-In family of products) during a single shopping trip, shoppers will receive a $1 fuel/pharmacy buck.

On top of that, customers will also receive a bonus $1 fuel/pharmacy buck each time they purchase one of several bonus items, which rotate on a weekly basis and are identified in Food City's weekly newspaper insert.

The fuel/pharmacy bucks automatically dispense at the checkout at the conclusion of each shopping trip, and customers can redeem fuel/pharmacy bucks at any Food City Gas 'N Go or Food City Pharmacy location before Dec. 29.

Ukrop's Super Markets, Inc., based in Richmond, Va., worked with Novartis Vaccines to design a program that lets shoppers help other consumers with health care costs by sending them a FluGram.

The program lets customers reserve influenza vaccinations before and during the flu season. When a flu shot is reserved and paid for ($32 each) at Ukrop's pharmacies, the purchaser will receive a FluGram gift card to present to a recipient. The gift card is redeemed when the flu shot is administered.

The Rx/HBC connection

Pittsburgh-based regional independent Giant Eagle not only expanded its discounted drug program by adding about 100 prescription drugs to the 400 existing in its $4 generic prescription drug program, it also extended the discounts to the other side of the pharmacy counter, the HBC department.

In October the chain began dropping prices by about 8 percent on 275 HBC products that complement many of the generic prescriptions in the program. The tandem tactics further strengthen Giant Eagle's commitment to the health and wellness of its customers, says chain spokesman Rob Borella.

The discounted HBC items include products related to allergy and asthma, heart health, and vitamins, as well as classes of medications for cholesterol management, family planning, and oncology.

The chain first launched the $4 generic drug program in late 2006. It covers up to a 30-day supply of commonly prescribed dosages of participating generic drugs.

The enhanced generic drug program also reduces prescription prices to $9 on 12 new drugs, including clomiphene citrate (family planning), methyldopa (heart health), and benzoyl peroxide cream wash (skin conditions). According to the company, generic drugs account for about two-thirds of the prescriptions filled at the chain.

This new program is linked to "Giant Eagle Pharmacy Rewards," which also offers participating customers priority flu shot and immunization scheduling, free blood pressure testing, and free health-oriented store tours and educational materials.

Borella said the drug store price cuts will save customers roughly $2 million in annualized savings, building on the approximately $4 million in annualized savings Giant Eagle expects it will deliver via the expanded $4 generic prescription program.

St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets, Inc. takes its discount program to the extreme by offering prescriptions for oral antibiotics -- up to a 21-day supply -- at no charge at all.

"You don't have to be a regular customer; there is no co-pay and no required purchase. Schnucks will assume all costs," notes Schnucks v.p. of pharmacy Michael Juergensmeyer. "The Schnucks free generic antibiotic program represents a significant investment in the communities we serve. This will go a long way toward easing the burden on families and on the health care system in general."

The list of free generic oral antibiotics available at Schnucks currently includes amoxicillin, ampicillin, ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, erythromycin, penicillin, and trimeth/sulfa. These antibiotics were selected from a list of families of drugs most often prescribed.

This list of free antibiotics may change from time to time, but Juergensmeyer emphasizes, "Schnucks is fully committed to this program, and eventually we hope to expand the list."
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