Columns » Bob McCord

Give me a 'W'

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Hooray for Wal-Mart for taking a big first step to reduce what people are now having to pay for the ridiculous costs the medical drug makers require. Pfizer, Inc., with a revenue of more than $51 billion last year, and several other companies in the United States and abroad are making and selling medicine that too many human beings do not have the money to buy.

So Wal-Mart announced last week that it would start selling some generic medicine for $4 for a month’s supply.

Wal-Mart wanted to test it first in Florida because it has 232 pharmacies in the state and there are so many elderly persons who live there and use these medicines. Next year, Wal-Mart will be offering the $4 drugs in its 3,900 Wal-Marts, Sam’s Clubs and Neighborhood Markets throughout the country.

One good sign was that immediately after Wal-Mart made its announcement, Target Corp., which also has hundreds of pharmacies, said it would meet Wal-Mart’s lower prices immediately in Florida.

As you might expect, Scott Pace, the associate vice president of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association, didn’t like the Wal-Mart news. In sort of an acidulous way, he told an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter: “The association thinks this does a disservice to the profession of pharmacy, regardless of what they had set that flat pricing at, by commoditizing prescription medications as a whole. By doing so, it just doesn’t put a value on the knowledge and expertise that the pharmacist brings to the dispensing equation.” He also said he was bothered that this sort of thing would cause patients “to hop from pharmacy to pharmacy to get what the patient perceives as the best price on medications.”

On the other hand, Dr. Joe Thompson, Arkansas’s chief health officer, told the newspaper, “I think that’s a warranted credit to Wal-Mart.”

Most of us who watch TV now know about today’s profession of pharmacy just by watching the Lunesta butterfly on all the networks that goes through your window at night, helping you go to sleep if you rush to the nearest drug store to buy Lunesta.

It used to be that such TV advertising was not allowed, but in 1997 the rules were eased to allow pharmaceutical ads and also doctors were allowed to advertise. U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, a physician, tried to get it stopped, but he was unsuccessful. Frist said, “Drug advertisements are fuel to America’s sky-rocketing prescription drug costs.” How right he was, but he got nowhere. Last year the companies were spending nearly $5 billion for advertising, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Gwen Ifill on PBS says, “When you visit your doctor’s office, the notepads, the ink pens, even the mirror on the wall in the exam room are likely to be imprinted with the name of a pharmaceutical manufacturer, all provided to your physician free of charge.” In 2004, pharmaceutical companies staged 237,000 meetings inviting people to hear physicians talk about their medicine, according to stories in the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper also said that doctors were paid $1,200 to $2,000 by the drug make Merck to talk to their meetings.

And probably like you, often while waiting to get in to see an Arkansas doctor, I see a young, good-looking male or female come in pulling a leather case filled with drug samples. And sometimes they get to see the doctor before I do.

Hooray for Wal-Mart.

It’s possible that the race for governor in November is going to be very close. So it’s annoying when people like Jim Lendall and Rod Bryan suddenly decided to run for the highest job in the state, knowing that they can’t possibly win it. What votes they get will be taken from the two serious and qualified persons most of the people want to be their governor.

Lendall, 59, is a respected hospital nurse who was elected a state legislator for as long as the law allows. Bryan, 36, is a lively fellow who has played college football and has been a dishwasher, musician, waiter and record store owner. But you waste your vote by voting for them.

We who really want either Democrat Mike Beebe or Republican Asa Hutchinson to be elected should be sure to vote and to persuade our sons and daughters who are at least 18 to do the same. Unfortunately, many young people have never bothered to vote in Arkansas. But the Census says that there are 373,938 more people in Arkansas who are at least 18 than the state had 15 years ago. If they go to vote, they can make a difference.

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