ABC Highlights Medicare Complaints, Overlooks Retailers' Drug Discounts

    The same day the federal government opened re-enrollment for a costly drug benefit, Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE: WMT) expanded its $4-generic drug plan and another competitor announced it would offer generic drugs for the same price. Yet while ABC’s “World News” complained about the cost and inconvenience of Medicare premiums, it left the role discount retailers like Wal-Mart and BJ’s Wholesale Club (NYSE: BJ) have in making medicine more affordable.


     On the November 15 program, anchor Charles Gibson complained that “43 million senior citizens, eligible for the Part D prescription drug benefit, have to enroll for 2007, and there is no prospect that it’s going to be any easier.”


     Correspondent Lisa Stark took up the story with complaints by senior citizens about rising premiums and how confusing it is to navigate all the fine print when comparing drug plans. For good measure Stark tossed in Ron Pollack, a liberal health care activist and a supporter of Bill Clinton’s 1994 plan to universalize health care.


   Stark left out Pollack’s political bent, however, and characterized him merely as one of many experts “who study next year’s options” to “warn that people need to look closely at the fine print.”


     Yet Stark herself didn’t pore over the fine print – in the federal budget. Nowhere in her story did she mention the hundreds of billions of dollars Medicare Part D is projected to cost taxpayers. Conservative detractors such as The Heritage Foundation consider it a “massive new experiment in central planning” and have estimated it will set back taxpayers nearly $700 billion over 10 years.


     Stark did, however, attack the plan from the left by featuring an advocate of universal health care.


     “The premium is likely to be different, what drugs are covered are different, other out-of-pocket costs will be different, what drug stores you can go may be different,” said Pollack, of FamiliesUSA, a liberal health care advocacy group. Pollack is a longtime advocate of more government control of health care.


     Yet the same day Stark featured complaints from seniors about the cost of drugs under a heavily subsidized government health care plan, two private companies made news with plans to lower drug prices at no cost to taxpayers.


    The Associated Press reported on November 16 that Wal-Mart “announced Thursday a rollout of its $4 offer on some generic prescription drugs to 11 more states,” meaning customers can now get the cheap drugs at “3,009 stores in 38 states.” What’s more, Wal-Mart’s announcement was matched by a competitor, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc.


     “Although BJ’s is a membership-based business, consumers do not need a membership to use BJ’s full-service pharmacy,” Chris Reidy of the Boston Globe reported in a November 16 article.


   In September, discount retailer and Wal-Mart rival Target (NYSE: TGT) announced plans to offer inexpensive generic drugs in store pharmacies.