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Mom and Pop Drugstores Making a Comeback

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YONKERS, NY ( Independent drugstores, which were edging toward extinction a few years ago, are making a comeback nationwide and won top honors in a survey of more than 32,000 Consumer Reports readers about their experiences at 31 chains, supermarket pharmacies, mass-merchant pharmacies and independents nationwide. In the October issue, Time to Switch Drugstores? reveals that Mom and Pop stores bested the big chains by an eye-popping margin. More than 85 percent of customers at independent drug stores were very satisfied or completely satisfied with their experience, compared with 58 percent of chain-drugstore customers.

CRs survey found that drugstore giants such as CVS, Eckerd and Rite Aid were not the best places to buy prescription drugs. Independent drugstores were most likely to have fast service and helpful pharmacists. Many supermarkets and mass merchant pharmacies also did a better job than the best-known conventional chains at providing caring, courteous, knowledgeable, and timely service. And in CRs nationwide price study, chains charged the highest priceseven slightly more than the independents.

The most frequent complaints of CR readers surveyed: Drugs were out of stock, waiting a long time for service, and prescriptions were not ready. Drugstore chains and supermarkets were most likely to be out of a requested drug. When a drug was out of stock, independents were able to obtain it within one day 80 percent of the time vs. about 55 to 60 percent for the other types of stores. At CVS, Genovese, Longs Drugs, and Sav-On, about 40 percent of readers complained of long waits for service. On the other hand, lines were short at Medicine Shoppe and independent drugstores. CVS, Genovese, and Rite Aid were among the worst offenders for prescriptions not being ready. Better prepared stores included Medicine Shoppe, Publix, ShopKo, Winn-Dixie, and the independents. CRs price study at 130 pharmacies helps readers save money on five popular prescription drugs. This report also explores the pros and cons of shopping online for medicines.



In its October HMO or PPO report, CR helps readers decide which kind of managed care plan is right for them. According to CRs exclusive survey of more than 42,000 readers about their experiences with their health maintenance organizations and preferred provider organizations, healthy enrollees in both HMOs and PPOs were generally able to get needed care. But among those who had a serious illness, complaints rose sharply, especially in the plans that received a low score in CRs unbiased Ratings. Twelve percent of the survey respondents and their families who suffered serious medical problems in the last year said they had difficulty getting care that they and their doctor believed necessary. Only 5 percent of other respondents encountered the problem.

HMO and PPO members were merely lukewarm about their plans; the average reader satisfaction score was 73 on a scale of 0 to 100. Thats lower than the average score for homeowners insurance (84) or car insurance (88). Twenty-two percent of HMO members had difficulty seeing doctors while only 15 percent of PPO members reported such a problem. CRs survey found that there was no difference between HMOs and PPOs in levels of satisfaction among people with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems, while people with back pain and arthritis preferred PPOs. On the other hand, billing and customer service problems are more common to PPOs. On average, 32 percent of PPO respondents, compared to 15 percent of HMO members, had at least one billing problem.

Readers can start shopping for a plan by weighing the greater access to care and choice of providers offered by most PPOs against the lower cost of HMOs. Generally, HMOs are better suited to people who need to keep out-of-pocket costs low, while PPOs are generally better suited to people who want the ability to choose any doctor. CRs Ratings of 92 HMOs and PPOs show that the best plans provide more satisfactory doctors and easier access to care. In the HMO category, Kaiser Permanente, the nations largest nonprofit healthcare provider, received consistently high marks from CRs readers for customer satisfaction and billing. For PPOs, many regional Blue Cross Blue Shields are among CRs top-rated plans, typically scoring higher than the nationwide plans. This report informs readers how to handle treatment and billing disputes. A thorough guide to the external review process in each state is available free at

The October 2003 issue of CR will be available September 9 wherever magazines are sold. To subscribe, call 1-800-765-1845.

© Health News 2003 All Rights Reserved.

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