Now that it's officially out of the Express Scripts Inc. pharmacy network, Walgreen Co. has served up a transition plan for patients who receive prescription drug benefits through the pharmacy benefit manager (PBM).


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Walgreens unveils transition plan for Express Scripts members

January 3rd, 2012

DEERFIELD, Ill. – Now that it's officially out of the Express Scripts Inc. pharmacy network, Walgreen Co. has served up a transition plan for patients who receive prescription drug benefits through the pharmacy benefit manager (PBM).

Dubbed the Walgreens Patient Transition Plan, the initiative aims to help Express Scripts-covered pharmacy patients to continue using Walgreens if possible or smoothly switch to another community pharmacy, according to Walgreens. As of Jan. 1, Walgreens stopped participating in the Express Scripts pharmacy provider network because of a contract impasse with the PBM.

Walgreens said that under the transition plan, announced Friday, it will offer a special discount during January on the annual membership fee for the Walgreens Prescription Savings Club,  which provides savings on more than 8,000 brand-name and all generic medications. The chain also is providing additional pharmacist and staff consultations, more than 3.9 million letters to patients that are also available in stores, targeted communications with high-volume patients, extra call center staffing and information at 1-800-Walgreens, and further patient information and guidance on Walgreens.com.

The plan also includes communications with employers and health plans to help them inform their members of the Express Scripts situation and their choices, Walgreens said. The drug store chain, too, is providing coupons for discounted health and wellness products as well as gift cards to eligible Express Scripts members.

"In recent days, we are hearing more and more from our customers and patients that they are upset about losing access to Walgreens pharmacies as a result of Express Scripts' actions," Walgreens president and chief executive officer Greg Wasson said in a statement. "Our pharmacy patients have come to depend on their longstanding, personal relationships with their trusted Walgreens pharmacists, and they don't want to give that up. Because of the trust they have in their Walgreens pharmacist, many patients are asking us about ways that they can continue accessing our pharmacy, health and wellness services. As a result, we are undertaking a comprehensive plan to continue serving our patients when possible, and in other cases help them make a smooth transition and minimize the disruption and inconvenience they may face."

Other elements of Walgreens' patient transition plan amid the dispute with Express Scripts include making pharmacy computer system changes to support transferring multiple prescriptions at once, providing a website to allow other pharmacies to electronically communicate a patient's transfer request to Walgreens, and supporting some of Walgreens' higher-impacted locations by a central call center to handle transfer requests.

"This disruption to pharmacy patients is especially troubling because it could have been avoided, stated Kermit Crawford, president of pharmacy, health and wellness solutions and services for Walgreens. "In the middle of December, we made another serious attempt to reach an agreement [with Express Scripts] before Jan. 1 with an offer that included concessions to avoid patient disruption. Unfortunately, the response we received was not meaningful, and their proposal to push negotiations into the new year has placed patients in this unfortunate position."

Crawford added, "We do not believe that there will be any meaningful cost savings to justify this needless hardship to patients, since we offered to keep rates flat and Express Scripts itself has stated that the elimination of Walgreens from its pharmacy network will not provide any reduction in costs for clients. As the saying goes, it's all pain with no gain."

Walgreens noted that it will continue to work closely with employers, health plans and midtier PBMs that want to maintain access to Walgreens pharmacies and health services. The company reported that to date, more than 120 Express Scripts clients have informed Walgreens that they have switched to a different PBM or taken other steps to maintain access to Walgreens pharmacies in 2012.

On Tuesday, Walgreens said that just days after unveiling its transition plan, tens of thousands of pharmacy patients have taken advantage of the January promotion of its Prescription Savings Club.

Normal annual membership in the club is $20 per person or $35 for a family. Through Jan. 31, Walgreens is offering one-year memberships at $5 for individuals or $10 for families.

"We apologize to our patients for the disruption caused by Express Scripts' stance and are offering a discount in the cost of enrolling in our Prescription Savings Club," Crawford stated Tuesday. "In our stores, pharmacists are reporting that our customers covered by Express Scripts plans are responding in significant numbers and choosing to stay with Walgreens."

Express Scripts, meanwhile, has maintained a link on the home page of its customer website that reads, "Walgreens Pharmacy Customers: You Have Many Options to Fill Your Prescriptions." Those clicking on the link then go to a page that says, "It's Easy to Change Pharmacies." The page provides links to enable visitors to see pharmacies in their area that serve Express Scripts members, find a pharmacy in their plan's network, or enroll in home delivery of prescriptions.

"At Express Scripts, we're committed to keeping your prescription drugs affordable and accessible. That's why we negotiate cost-competitive agreements with all of our participating retail pharmacies. Unfortunately, Walgreens' proposed 2012 prices were much higher than the other pharmacies within our network. If we accepted Walgreens' rate, their higher costs may have affected your future premiums," reads a statement by Express Scripts atop the web page. "As a result, Walgreens is no longer a participating provider in our pharmacy networks (effective Jan. 1, 2012)."

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