Walgreen Co. has brought its fight with pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts Inc. to the social media site Twitter.

Walgreens, Express Scripts, Twitter, tweet, social media, blogger, pharmacy benefit manager, PBM, contract dispute, prescription business, Greg Wasson, pharmacy provider, retail pharmacy, community pharmacy, drug chain, Walgreens' annual shareholder meeting, Michael Polzin, topic trend, Russell Redman

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Walgreens takes battle with PBM to Twitter

January 13th, 2012

NEW YORK – Walgreen Co. has brought its fight with pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts Inc. to the social media site Twitter.

The drug store chain on Thursday began sending out "tweets" urging customers to support Walgreens and "take a stand" against the PBM.

As of Jan. 1, Walgreens ceased its participation in Express Scripts' pharmacy provider network because of a contract dispute. And as the standoff has continued, the chain last week served up a patient transition plan. And over recent months the retailer has worked to retain as much of the prescription business at stake as possible.

Tweets posted by Walgreens on Jan. 12 included the following:

• "We want the best for our customers. Disappointed in @ExpressScripts decision? Tweet using hashtag #ILoveWalgreens to show your support!"

• "It's time to take a stand against @ExpressScripts. Tell them people want a choice by tweeting hashtag #ILoveWalgreens."

• "Patients should be able to choose their pharmacy, not @ExpressScripts. Tweet using #ILoveWalgreens to show your support!"

Walgreens sponsored the #ILoveWalgreens Twitter topic trend "to start a dialogue and give our customers a forum for voicing their views," Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin said.

"We wanted to tap into all the reasons people love Walgreens and drive awareness of this conversation beyond just our followers. We also knew that there were thousands of customers who were upset and inconvenienced by not being able to use their in-network pharmacy benefits at Walgreens because of Express Scripts' stance," Polzin explained. "So we wanted to give these customers a forum to be heard online. We also wanted to help make any transition as easy as possible and ensure that our patients fully understand the issue.

"Not all of the conversations we started were necessarily about Express Scripts," he added. "We also asked people to share positive experiences they'd had with their local Walgreens, like how they feel about their local pharmacist or a time when they were helped by one of our 24-hour pharmacies."

Express Scripts responded via Twitter with some tweets of its own. It led off on Thursday with the tweet, "Walgreens has made it pretty clear it won't serve Express Scripts members. Good news: 56,000 other pharmacies will."

Then in successive tweets, the PBM posted six "facts" about its negotiations with the drug chain, saying that Walgreens "unilaterally" opted out of its pharmacy network and that "Walgreens' proposed rates/terms would make them the most expensive pharmacy in our network."

In addition, the Express Scripts tweets said about the dispute with Walgreens, "It’s easy to switch. Just take your empty pill bottle to your new pharmacy; they’ll do the rest," and, "The vast majority of our clients and members have already moved on, and more plan to do so."

According Walgreens' Polzin, the chain saw a strong response to its Twitter campaign, reaching over 25 million people. "Twitter shared with us that this was one of the best-performing branded trends ever and reached performance levels usually associated with nonbranded trends," he said. "Also, we saw thousands of people talking about Walgreens, with positive sentiment overpowering other sentiment by a 12-to-1 ratio. We also added 20,000 new followers."

Walgreens has stiffened its stance in its contract impasse with Express Scripts. At Walgreens' annual shareholder meeting in Chicago on Wednesday, chief executive officer Greg Wasson said the chain has "been working with Express Scripts for most of the past year on a new contract" but hasn't been able to reach a fair agreement and "therefore we are moving forward without being part of the Express Scripts network."

He also told stockholders, "As we've said before, we believe the long-term implications of accepting Express Scripts' below-market proposal would have been much worse than the short-term impact on earnings."

In a recent interview with Chain Drug Review, Wasson noted that Walgreens' dispute with Express Scripts has much broader implications for his company and community pharmacy overall.

"This is not just about Walgreens. This is as much, if not more, about the retail pharmacy industry," Wasson said in the interview. "If the leading pharmacy retailer in the land cannot tolerate the type of reimbursement Express Scripts is talking about, who will be able to? It's just a matter of time before other pharmacy operators are faced with the same situation."

Wasson said Walgreens also has conveyed its rationale to its pharmacists. "We have communicated all year to folks as to what this issue is about and why we're taking this stance — that it's as much about the community pharmacy industry as it is about Walgreens and the fact that their pharmacist-patient relationship is much more than a dot on a map. That, ultimately, we believe that the service we provide, and that relationship and that trust, is worth far more than what Express Scripts is valuing it at today," he explained. "Our key strategy is to advance the role community pharmacy plays in health care."