Obamacare backlog: Walgreen's offers month of drugs

A Walgreens location.

With the new year come millions of people who will be newly insured under the Affordable Care Act, and pharmacies are among the many companies competing for their business.

This week several drugstore chains offered temporary supplies of medications for those still sorting out their coverage. Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, and Kroger are among the retailers offering to fill prescriptions for people who enrolled in new health plans but don’t have ID numbers yet. They’ll settle the bill later.

“The key is to drive traffic by any means possible,” says analyst Ross Muken with research firm ISI Group.

Once those customers are in the door, drugstores hope to sell them not only pantyhose and bubble gum, but other health care services, Muken says -- like flu shots and even physicals.

“They want to be the place that you think of first when you think of health care,” says Robert Field, a professor of law and public policy at Drexel University. “If they can be friendly for a 30-day bridge period, it’s a small investment to make in terms of that long-term relationship.”

How long-term? Field says customer loyalty isn’t what it was in the days of the corner drugstore. People tend to go to the closest pharmacy their insurance plan allows.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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