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Walgreens/Express Scripts dispute adding fuel to merger fire

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — It's been another busy week on the Walgreens/Express Scripts front as an arbiter ruled against preliminary injunctive relief in time for the 2012 Medicare open enrollment period, which actually started last week. What's more, other parties are beginning to weigh in on the dispute, notably in favor of Walgreens.

(THE NEWS: Preliminary injunctive relief denied in WAG/ESI dispute. For the full story, click here.)

Thomas Engels, VP public affairs of the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin, wrote in to the Wisconsin daily, the Herald Times Reporter, expressing a thought that a lot of people have been thinking of late — if one of the largest pharmacy chains in the country can't swallow Express Scripts' reimbursement terms, what does that mean for small chains and independents that don't have near the economies of scale enjoyed by Walgreens?

That becomes even a greater concern when you consider Express Scripts' proposed merger with Medco. Groups like the National Community Pharmacists Association have been very vocal in opposing that merger, suggesting that the resulting mega-PBM would push many independents into early retirement.

And the Preserve Community Pharmacy Access NOW! coalition on Oct. 19 added its voice to that issue — charging that an ESI-Medco PBM would also mean increased healthcare costs and reduced access for patients. 

Taken together, the dispute around Walgreens' refusal to accept Express Scripts' proposed reimbursement rates and the number of groups and organizations climbing the closest mountain top to voice their opposition to that ESI-Medco merger, the Walgreens/ESI battle is serving to  fan the flames around the ESI-Medco merger and what that would mean for retail pharmacy. 

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