Wal-Mart cuts branded formulary in half

Wal-Mart slashed its employee drug benefits in half, cutting the number of branded meds on its formulary to 128 from 260, BNet Pharma reports. Big-time drugs like Sanofi-Aventis' Ambien CR and Shire's Adderall XR won't be paid for by the company plan anymore. According to a letter Wal-Mart sent to its workers, the company is going from a two-tiered branded-drug plan to one, and getting rid of most of its second-tier drugs in the process. (Treatments it calls "specialty drugs," including biologics, will still be covered.)

The company is aiming to push workers toward generics, which will be covered separately at $4 per 30-day supply. "In many cases, our associates could see savings by converting a single prescription to a generic drug of $300 a year," the company said in a statement.

Looking over the company formularies--January's list versus the new one, now set to take effect August 1--we noticed some major omissions. Bayer's Yaz is the only contraceptive still covered; women had five options on the previous plan. Of six antidepressants, only two will still be covered, Wyeth's Pristiq and Forest Labs' Lexapro. Pfizer's Lipitor and Abbott Laboratories' Tricor are the only two cholesterol meds on the new list; Merck/Schering-Plough's Vytorin and Zetia are gone, as well as several others.

The changes already are upsetting Wal-Mart workers. Drugmakers won't be happy either. One thing is for sure: With employers and insurers looking to trim healthcare costs more and more, pharma will have to target more of its marketing resources in that direction. Physicians aren't the only--or even the most important--gatekeepers anymore.

- see the BNet post
- get the letter and lists