Wal-Mart's $4 Drug Plan: Good for Consumers, Bad for Nationalized Health Care Advocates

     While ABC and NBC greeted the announcement of $4 generic drugs at Wal-Mart Stores with a mostly positive reception on their September 22 programs, The New York Times took a Debbie Downer approach to the development.


     What’s more, both the Times and CBS failed to inform news consumers that a critic of the Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) plan, Ron Pollack, once advocated Hillary Clinton’s plan to nationalize health care.


     “This initiative could lower prescription drug prices nationwide. It is already happening with Target (NYSE: TGT) now vowing to match Wal-Mart’s prices. This is great news for you the consumer,” asserted ABC’s Elisabeth Leamy on “Good Morning America.” Leamy noted that while only 291 of some 7,000 generic drugs will get the $4-a-month price tag, the drugs Wal-Mart has selected are commonly prescribed generic drugs.


     On CBS’s “Early Show,” Anthony Mason gave examples, naming metformin and lisinopril – medications for diabetes and high blood pressure respectively – as drugs that could save patients hundreds of dollars yearly.


     The New York Times, however, sought to downplay the significance of the development, with reporters Michael Barbaro and Reed Abelson complaining in their September 22 news analysis piece that “while uninsured people should benefit from the program, those with insurance may save only a dollar or so.”


     That’s not quite accurate. As ABC’s Leamy reported, most insured consumers could save from $6-$14 per generic drug by paying out-of-pocket in lieu of their usual $10-$20 co-pays. Indeed, said Leamy, Wal-Mart and Target, by offering some drugs lower than most insurance company co-pays, would “put pricing pressure on insurance companies.”


     While the Times reporters emphasized the small proportion of generic drugs to be priced at $4, CBS’s Anthony Mason noted that “analysts expect Wal-Mart to expand the number of drugs in the program” after the new pricing structure is implemented next year.


     Mason presented a more positive take on the drug pricing news than did Barbaro and Abelson, but the CBS reporter joined the Times in highlighting a strong critic of the plan: Ron Pollack of the liberal Families USA advocacy group.


     Pollack told Mason that $4 generic drugs were “clearly” a public relations move “to blunt the deserved criticism for the miserable health coverage that Wal-Mart provides its employees.” The Times quoted similar criticism from Pollack and labeled his group “a Washington consumer group that has often criticized Wal-Mart’s health care offerings.”


     Yet neither Mason nor the Times writers revealed Pollack’s ideological commitment to socialized health care, as evidenced by his support of the 1994 Clinton nationalization plan that faltered in Congress.


     In the Aug. 27, 1994, New York Times, writer Robert Pear celebrated “crusaders for universal health insurance coverage” like Pollack whose “dream had been deferred but would not die.”


     At that time, Pollack told Pear, “When one tries to achieve comprehensive, significant social changes … those things don’t happen overnight.”