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The mail-order drug business - big and getting bigger.

President Bill Clinton has singled out pharmaceutical manufacturers as a key factor in the rising cost of medical care. A large manufacturer who spends huge sums to develop a new drug is certainly entitled to recover those research costs in the marketing of that drug and to make a reasonable profit therefrom.

Not all would agree what constitutes a reasonable profit. However, no one would disagree that the cost of most new drugs is soaring.

To control these costs, especially for the so-called "maintenance drugs" taken for chronic ailments, more and more large corporations are requiring their employees to purchase prescription drugs by mail. These mail-order pharmacies promise to cut drug bills by as much as 20 percent, using up-to-date computerized facilities to purchase, warehouse, and dispense drugs and to keep detailed records of patient use.

Medco, of Montvale, New Jersey, is the largest of the mail-order firms, with 50 percent of the market. Others include Baxter International Inc., Express Pharmacy Services, Walgreen Co., Fay's Inc., and Value Health Inc. Among their clients are such industry giants as General Electric Co., Mobil Corp., and Alcoa.

Nor is the trend limited to industrial corporations. Indiana University, for example, offers its faculty members and employees, including its retirees, the facilities of a large midwestern chain of pharmacies, either by mail or at its local retail stores. Prescriptions mailed to the chain's main facility in Cincinnati, Ohio, are usually returned to the patient within three to four working days. Postage-free envelopes for mailing the prescriptions or requesting refills are provided by the chain, and there is a flat charge of $15 for a three-month supply of any drug.

If the patient requires the drug immediately, the prescription will be honored at any of the chain's retail stores, at a charge of 20 percent of the regular retail price. The store may dispense only a one-month supply of any drug, however.

Many organizations, such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), offer mail-order services to their members at substantial discounts. Such services can be particularly valuable to persons living in small towns and rural areas and who may not have access to the many discount pharmacies available in major cities.

AARP membership is available to anyone age 50 or older for $5 a year. For information, write to AARP, 3200 E. Carson St., Lakewood, CA 90712.
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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