2018 Winter Newsletter- $4 Generic Lists: A Declining Proposition

Although discount generic lists were the centerpiece of many retail pharmacy advertising campaigns in the early 2010s, we rarely hear pharmacies tout their existence today.  Instead of being front and center on retail pharmacy webpages, discount generic lists are now embedded deeper within the websites, if listed at all.  PHSI first looked at the changing landscape of discount generic programs three years ago in our Winter 2015 Newsletter.  Since then, PHSI has continued to track the product offerings on these lists and noted decreasing or stagnant offerings.

Although generic drug pricing is currently in a deflationary period, pharmacy chains have not increased the number of products listed on their discount generic lists.  In the past, rising generic costs made the inclusion of many products unsustainable, but for many generics, this is no longer the case.  PHSI has tracked the discount generic programs of major pharmacy chains since 2012 and found that all chains have decreased the number of medications offered.  The chart below illustrates the annual changes in the number of included drugs.

Discount Generic Lists Chart

Walgreens still has the most robust generic drug program, with approximately 537 drugs included in 2017, while CVS has essentially discontinued their discount generic list.  CVS moved to a new “Reduced Rx Savings Program”, which only includes three Novolin insulin products.  While some pharmacy discount generic lists contain niche products, 124 drugs appear on all eight pharmacy lists.  These drugs are commodity generics and include meloxicam, metformin, lisinopril, amoxicillin, benazepril, citalopram, and clonidine, among others.  At acquisition costs of pennies per unit, these products can still provide modest revenue and a positive gross margin.

With the increasing prevalence of high deductible plans, we could see a rise in the popularity of discount generic lists.  High deductible health plans are forcing patients to become more price-driven in their search for pharmaceuticals, as flat-dollar copays are replaced in the deductible stage.  Stakeholders should expect patients in plans with a prescription deductible to behave more like cash-paying patients versus traditional commercially insured patients.  Competitive cash pricing will appeal to these patients.

Despite modest attention from patients in prescription deductible plans, will we see a resurgence in $4 lists?  PHSI’s answer… probably not.  While Walmart’s $4 list is an enticement to get patients into their stores, pharmacy chains do not make enough dollar profits on these programs to expand them.  Pharmacies analyze their PBM reimbursement rates when considering new candidates for discount generic lists or for eliminating current products.  With 90+% of drugs being reimbursed via third party insurance, pharmacies do not want to change their Usual and Customary (U&C) pricing to invoke the “lower of” clause in their PBM contracts, reducing the profitability on the vast majority of their prescriptions.  PHSI will continue to monitor discount generic drug lists and publish updates identifying changing market strategies.

 

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