Retail News Breaks Archives
U.K.'s Asda to sell some cancer medications at cost
May 21st, 2010
LEEDS, England – Starting next week, British food and drug retailer Asda plans to sell all privately prescribed cancer treatment drugs on a not-for-profit basis, a move that it called a "world first."
The Walmart subsidiary said Thursday that its stores will begin offering cancer medications at cost on a permanent basis effective May 24.
According to Asda, cancer is the United Kingdom's second-biggest killer, affecting nearly 300,000 people annually, and for many cancer sufferers the cost of treatment is well above what they can afford. The company said research compiled for Asda compared the price of seven of the most commonly privately prescribed cancer drugs available at the U.K.'s leading pharmacies and found markups of up to 76%.
For example, Asda said that under the not-for-profit program, the price of Iressa — used to treat lung cancer, the leading cancer-killer among U.K. women — will be available for 2,167.71 pounds ($3,121.07 U.S.), compared with 2,601.25 pounds at Lloyds Pharmacy, 3,251.57 pounds at Boots and 3,253.56 pounds at Superdrug.
Asda reported that the markups over the cost price at competing pharmacies ranged from 20% to 50%. And according to research by Asda, 63% of people don't know that private prescription prices vary between pharmacies.
"The crippling cost of paying privately for cancer treatment has forced many people to spend their savings or even remortgage their house to pay for these essential drugs," John Evans, superintendent pharmacist at Asda, said in a statement.
"We are the first retailer to recognise this injustice and to do something about it, and we are calling on other retailers to follow our lead," Evans commented. "It's a small step in the right direction but, our permanent 'not for profit' price on cancer treatment drugs makes them more accessible and can save people hundreds if not thousands of pounds."
Rival U.K. supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury said that they would match Asda's pricing for the private-prescription cancer drugs, the Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Newswires reported Thursday.
Asda noted that besides markups, cancer patients face other challenges in getting affordable treatment in the U.K., which operates a publicly funded health care system known as the National Health Service (NHS).
For instance, the retailer said there are big variations in the cancer drugs available via the NHS within each of the U.K.'s post code (i.e. postal code) territories — commonly used as a basis for allocating services and funding — and the annual expenditure per cancer patient can vary by as much as 286% across the nation's 152 post codes.
Also, Asda said that some costly cancer treatments, such as Iressa and Afinitor (for treating kidney cancer), aren't available through the NHS and can only be obtained with a private prescription.
Asda added that it's working with suppliers to negotiate further discounts on the trade price of privately prescribed cancer drugs and said the savings would be passed on to customers. In March, Asda had announced that it would sell in-vitro fertilization (IVF) drugs on a not-for-profit basis.
"Saving people money so they can live better is viewed by many as just the marketing slogan of our parent company, Walmart," stated Asda chief executive officer Andrew Clarke, whom the company said lost his parents to cancer. "However, when you see what we can achieve in areas like cancer and IVF treatments to reduce prices, the reality of that mission statement becomes very real and very personal. I'm very proud of the work our pharmacy team are doing to lower prices."