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CVS and Walgreens feud, and patients are caught in the middle

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They are the nation’s two largest drugstore chains. They fill billions of dollars’ worth of prescriptions for millions of people every month. And they are fighting.

The dispute is over whether it is appropriate for CVS Caremark to be both a provider of prescription drug benefit plans and an operator of the drugstores that fill those prescriptions.

On Monday, Walgreens announced it would no longer fill prescriptions for customers in new CVS Caremark benefit plans. On Wednesday, CVS fought back, saying its plan would no longer allow customers to fill their prescriptions at Walgreens.

CVS operates more than 7,000 drugstores; Walgreens operates about 7,500. The number of people affected by their feud is huge.

From the New York Times:

“It’s a real big game of chicken, and I don’t know who’s going to win this one,” said Edward A. Kaplan, a benefits expert at the Segal Company, a consultant to big employers.

“Mr. Kaplan said he was working with employers to determine how many of their workers might be affected if they were forced to stop using Walgreens under their plans.

“Smaller drugstore operators had already raised antitrust concerns against CVS Caremark, citing potential conflicts caused by its dual role as a pharmacy chain and a drug plan administrator. The National Community Pharmacists Association, which represents independent drugstores, said the Federal Trade Commission was investigating its accusations of anti-competitive practices by CVS Caremark.

“The commission confirmed the investigation but declined to comment on the nature of the inquiry.

“Attorneys general in 24 states are conducting a similar investigation, according to CVS Caremark.

“In a statement, CVS Caremark said Wednesday it remained “confident that our business practices and service offerings are being conducted in compliance with antitrust laws.”

“While CVS Caremark said that the vast majority of customers could easily find a nearby pharmacy other than Walgreens, Mr. Kaplan and other benefits consultants said the standoff could be disruptive.

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