Wal-Mart will begin selling 291 popular generic drugs at just $4 each for a month's supply today.
Although 7,000 generic drugs exist, Wal-Mart said it had chosen crucial ones for common conditions like allergies, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
"Wal-Mart is taking this step so that our customers and associates can get the medicines that they need at the prices they can afford," said Wal-Mart Executive Vice President Bill Simon. "This program will give them options and access."
The program begins today at Wal-Marts and Sam's Clubs in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area.
The company plans to take it nationwide next year. The program will be available to people with and without health insurance.
Big Difference for Consumers
Glenda Grigsby currently spends $40 per month on two prescription medications. That cost would drop to $8 if she buys generic brands from Wal-Mart.
"That'd be a big difference," Grigsby said.
Hein Smit's wife relies on seven different medicines and could save about $100 per month by buying them at Wal-Mart in the future.
Health-policy experts said the savings might not be confined to Wal-Mart alone.
"I think, ultimately, Wal-Mart's presence in the market is going to really put pressure on their competitors to lower their prices and reveal their prices," said Joseph Antos of the American Enterprise Institute.
"The bottom line is this is really good news for American consumers."
This will also put pricing pressure on insurance companies, whose co-pays average $10 to $20.
The company's move could bring about yet another major change.
Currently generic drugs make up just 58 percent of the market. Customers who once shied away from generic medications may now be tempted to give them a try.
Generally, generic drugs are viewed as just as good, if not identical, to their name-brand counterparts.
Some doctors said a few generics were not up to par.
Ask your doctor whether a generic drug is available for your prescription and whether it's just as good.
Experts said the profit margin on generic drugs was big enough that Wal-Mart could afford to discount the drugs deeply without losing money.
Also, customers who come to Wal-Mart to fill a prescription may shop for all sorts of other things while they wait.