This would qualify for quote of the month, except that the comment was made during the last week of February. In any event, during a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Express Scripts ceo George Paz let it be known just how valuable pharmacists really are. In response to a question about narrow networks of pharmacies, he had this to say...
"At the end of day, as I said earlier, Nexium is Nexium, Lipitor is Lipitor, drugs are drugs and it shouldn't matter that much who's counting to 30," George said. "...we believe that the community pharmacists serve a very important role in healthcare, that they do a tremendous amount. But we just don't see that one pharmacist does it that much better than another pharmacist, at least not by change (sic)" (here is the transcript).
Of course, some context helps. Express Scripts, which hopes to receive regulatory approval for its proposed $29 billion acquisition of Medco Health Solutions (see this), had been locked in a heated dispute with Walgreen and, as a result, the drug-store chain is no longer in the network run by the pharmacy benefit manager.
So far, Walgreen has taken a shellacking (look here). And Paz used the opportunity to, essentially, say that pharmacists are interchangeable. This will certainly not endear him to independent community pharmacies, who are lobbying strenuously against approval of the deal to buy Medco. But he is unlikely to care.
More to the point, Paz is correct to say that any pharmacist should be able to count pills correctly, regardless of which counter they stand behind. But he may not have realized how this might sound to his own pharmacists, who toil behind the scenes at the Express Scripts mail-order operation, jawboning with doctors, insurers and patients, and ensuring prescriptions are handled correctly.
This gaffe, however unintended, is reminiscent of recent remarks by Sanofi ceo Chris Viehbacher, who did little to inspire his scientists when he commented that the best researchers want to work at biotechs and that big pharma does not know how to innovate. The statements set off a furious debate about big pharma, innnovation and ceo leadership (see this).
To that end, Paz may have walked down the same treacherous path. In the interest of telling it like it is, employee morale can take a beating and the mantle of leadership can suffer. For the moment, though, Paz is more likely to be concerned with the Medco deal. And Walgreens may not be in a rush to hire. But some Express Scripts pharmacists may wonder about their value. After all, if they can count, then they can probably do that math, too.