Walgreens users may have to fill prescriptions elsewhere 

Out: Walgreens and Express Scripts, a liaison between pharmacies and insurance companies, may cut ties. (AP file photo) - OUT: WALGREENS AND EXPRESS SCRIPTS, A LIAISON BETWEEN PHARMACIES AND INSURANCE COMPANIES, MAY CUT TIES. (AP FILE PHOTO)
  • Out: Walgreens and Express Scripts, a liaison between pharmacies and insurance companies, may cut ties. (AP file photo)
  • Out: Walgreens and Express Scripts, a liaison between pharmacies and insurance companies, may cut ties. (AP file photo)

People covered by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance may have to avoid Walgreens for their prescription medication, unless the pharmacy and a pharmaceutical benefits manager patch up their relationship soon.

In June, Walgreens and the company Express Scripts hit a wall in negotiations for a new 2012 contract because they could not agree on drug prices and availability, among other factors. Now people whose insurance companies partner with Express Scripts will have to change pharmacies or pay full price for prescriptions at Walgreens.

Express Scripts serves as the liaison between pharmacies and insurance companies, including major Bay Area providers Blue Cross Blue Shield and Anthem Blue Cross.

Express Scripts spokesman Brian Henry couldn’t say how many San Francisco residents will be affected by its break with Walgreens.

“It may be a little bit further walk, but it’s normally just as convenient to fill that script at a different pharmacy for lower cost,” Henry said.

Walgreens representatives feel differently, however. Company spokesman Michael Polzin said the pharmacy chain has 68 locations in San Francisco.

“We’re everywhere in San Francisco,” Polzin said. “We have such a strong presence in The City. We’ve been there for over 60 years; we’ve built up a strong following.”

The trade publication Mass Market Retailer said Walgreens has a 40 percent market share in the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont region, Polzin said.

Among the disputed issues between the two companies is that Express Scripts wanted to lower reimbursement rates to Walgreens for providing its customers with medication. Henry said Walgreens’ demands would have resulted in higher prices for customers.

Polzin countered that while Walgreens’ brand-name drugs may cost a few dollars more than those available elsewhere, their pharmacies do a better job of converting customers to generic versions of its medication, which saves Express Scripts money in the long run.

Walgreens has 7,760 stores in the country, including 68 in San Francisco, all of which are in Express Scripts’ network, Polzin said. Pharmacists and employees who work in San Francisco’s Walgreens are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

The pharmacy filled 90 million Express Scripts prescriptions in its last year, which represented about 11.25 percent of Walgreens’ total prescriptions.

Both Polzin and Henry said their companies are open to revisiting contract negotiations, but both also said the ball is in the other company’s court.

sgantz@sfexaminer.com

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Sarah Gantz

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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018

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