COLUMBIA — Schnucks began offering 54 generic antibiotics for free Monday at all of its pharmacies, including the one in Columbia.
Customers with a prescription may receive up to a 21-day supply of drugs such as amoxicillin and ampicillin, regardless of insurance provider or number of refills.
One hundred stores across seven states are participating in this latest volley to cut the cost of medication.
Last year, Wal-Mart implemented a program that offers 150 generic brand medicines for $4 each.
St. Louis-based Schnucks said its solution is not a quick fix.
“This is a long-term plan,” said Ron Yamnitz, co-manager of the Columbia Schnucks. “The great thing is that all these companies are trying to do something in the way of making affordable health care easier.”
The new program will offer seven classes of oral antibiotics: amoxicillin, ampicillin, ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, erythromycin, penicillin and trimeth/sulfa. They were selected based on families of drugs most prescribed to children and adults.
Schnucks vice president of pharmacy, Michael Juergensmeyer, said he knows the word “free” raises eyebrows, but he said the program’s purpose is straightforward.
“You don’t have to be a regular customer; there is no co-pay and no required purchase,” Juergensmeyer said in the company’s press release.
“There are enough people in our community who are unable to pay the costs for medications, so what they will do is pick and choose” said Lori Willis, Schnucks director of communication. “If we take away that burden, medication costs can be one less thing to worry about.”
The idea of free antibiotics could be problematic for some Columbia physicians, however.
“I applaud Schnucks for trying to do something like this because antibiotics are a common prescription, but a number of those have become less effective,” said William Kinney, an ear, nose and throat specialist.
This new program is not going to change the fact that antibiotics are over-prescribed, he said.
Joann Schumer, a Columbia pediatrician, sees the free access to generic antibiotics as a bonus.
“I think it’s a wonderful community service to provide people,” Schumer said. “Some places provide free cholesterol screening, blood pressure checks. I don’t see getting a prescription for free as a problem.”
She does point to a potential drawback.
“I hope patients don’t come in and request a certain antibiotic just because it’s free,” she said. “As a physician, I will make decisions on what drug is most appropriate.”
So far, rival pharmacy Walgreens doesn’t perceive Schnucks’ program as a threat.
“A large percentage of folks are covered by a type of insurance program, but when they are not, we can research discount programs and help people find coverage,” said Tiffani Bruce, Walgreens media relations and marketing spokeswoman.
Schnucks representatives said the list of free antibiotics may change in the future but the program will be permanent.