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The Orlando Sentinel reports this morning that “when Publix Super Markets announced this week that it was offering seven generic antibiotics for free to its pharmacy customers, it was also quietly discontinuing a policy that had allowed customers to obtain scores of other medications for just $4 a prescription.

“Pharmacy employees at Central Florida Publix stores confirmed Tuesday that the grocery chain has dropped its policy of matching — when a customer requested it — Wal-Mart's nationwide discount price of $4 for more than 60 generic drugs in more than 160 doses and varieties. When it announced its new antibiotic program Monday, during a news conference with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Publix did not mention that it was discontinuing the customer-service policy of matching the discount price offered by Wal-Mart, Target Corp. and other retailers for certain medications.”

According to the story, “Publix spokesman Dwaine Stevens would not confirm Tuesday that the Lakeland-based supermarket chain has discontinued the price-matching policy for prescriptions. He said Publix is focusing on the free antibiotic program, which the company thinks is of ‘superior value to our customers and the community as a whole’.”

Some public health advocates are critical of the shift, saying that antibiotics tend to be short term drugs, and that consumers are worse off if they have to pay full price for generic prescriptions that they need to use for longer periods of time. The Sentinel reports that Wal-Mart claims that “its customers have collectively saved about $350 million on those prescription drugs since September 2006, when the company first began selling $4 prescriptions in Tampa-area stores. The $4 prescriptions now account for more than 35 percent of all prescriptions filled at Wal-Mart stores nationwide, the company said, and almost 30 percent of the $4 prescriptions are purchased by customers without health insurance.”
KC's View:
In a moment of startling – and some would say uncharacteristic – modesty, I’m going to admit here that I’m not in a position to judge accurately whether the Publix shift is better or worse for consumers, though the criticism of it would seem valid at first glance.

I would gently suggest to my friends at Publix that when stories like this emerge, not confirming or denying them isn’t really an option. You just look like you’re obfuscating – which is never the image a retailer wants to have, even a dominant market leader like Publix.

I don’t know that much about pharmacy services, but I do know something about how to frame a story.