Walgreen and CVS, the nation's two largest drugstore chains, plan to offer prescriptions at no upfront cost to some patients who don't have all the information they need for coverage received through the health care overhaul.
Walgreen Co. will provide up to a 30-day supply of some branded and generic medicines to patients who can confirm their enrollment through the overhaul's public insurance marketplaces but have yet to receive a plan identification number, which is normally needed to process a claim.
The Deerfield, Ill., company's offer excludes complex and expensive medications like cancer drugs or treatments for rare diseases.
These patients won't have to pay anything at the pharmacy, but they may receive a bill later for the co-payment their plan requires them to make. The drugstore chain also will collect payment from the insurer once it verifies enrollment.
Walgreen is the largest drugstore chain with 8,200 drugstores. Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS Caremark Corp. ranks second with about 7,600 stores.
CVS Caremark also plans to offer a "bridge supply" of medicine for 15 or 30 days to some patients who are transitioning to new coverage provided through the overhaul and don't want to interrupt their medication schedule. Spokeswoman Carolyn Castel said the pharmacies will do this based on clinical considerations that she declined to detail.
Like Walgreen, CVS also will then seek reimbursement from the drug plan, and it may then bill patients for any co-payments they owe under the coverage.
CVS also said it can provide care and seek reimbursement later for patients who are starting overhaul-related coverage and visit one of the chain's in-store clinics.
The overhaul aims to cover millions of uninsured people, with many insurance customers signing up either through state-based insurance exchanges or a federally operated website, www.healthcare.gov . Website crashes and other problems marred the debut of that website last fall.
The new coverage starts Jan. 1, and insurers are worried about technical problems that involve the government passing along inaccurate information on enrollees. It remains to be seen whether more complications will crop up when people try to use their benefits in the new year.
Walgreen shares fell 37 cents to $57.47 Tuesday afternoon, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose slightly. CVS Caremark shares dropped 5 cents to $71.53. Walgreen shares have climbed more than 55 percent in 2013, while CVS shares have risen 48 percent.