Major pharmacy chains expected to merge this week

Bob Moon Apr 2, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: When you go to the pharmacy to pick up your prescriptions, chances are you interact with either Express Scripts or Medco. Those companies process prescription drug claims. And this week, they’re expected to finalize a merger with each other.

That’s got some pharmacy chains worried, as our senior business correspondent Bob Moon reports.

Bob Moon: Brace yourself for less choice. That’s what an ad from the pharmacy groups says will happen:

Radio ad: They’ll be able to tell me when, where and how to get my medicine. They’ll be able to squeeze big profits out of patients. Medco-Express Scripts? Too big.

But Brian Henry, a spokesman for Express Scripts, says the goal is beefing up bargaining power.

Brian Henry: What pharmacy benefit managers like Express Scripts and Medco do — and we think we’ll be able to do more of in the future — is accelerate our ability to help drive down costs, and help improve the quality.

One way to do that, he says, is giving consumers the cheaper option of buying their drugs by mail. But the pharmacy groups complain Express Scripts and Medco combined could funnel even more business to their own in-house mail-order firms, freezing out the local pharmacies. Henry insists that’s not so.

Henry: Home delivery is an option that we offer to clients and patients to opt into.

Don Bell speaks for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. He says the merger could doom many corner pharmacies.

Don Bell: Pharmacies will have to cut service, cut their hours, have forced layoffs of employees and even closing of pharmacies.

And with reduced competition, he argues, consumers could end up paying more.

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.