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Walgreen Co (WAG-N) posted a lower quarterly profit as the largest U.S. drugstore chain's margins were hurt by lower reimbursement rates for the prescriptions it fills, fewer flu shots and its spat with pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts Inc. (ESRX-Q).
Walgreen, which has more than 7,800 U.S. drugstores, reiterated that is does not plan to renew its contract with Express Scripts, which is set to expire on Dec. 31, but Chief Executive Greg Wasson said the chain remains "open to any fair and competitive offer" from the PBM.
If the contract does expire as planned, patients who fill Express Scripts prescriptions at Walgreens stores will have to go elsewhere, cutting into Walgreen's sales.
Walgreen estimated that it will have 97 percent to 99 percent of last year's prescription volume in fiscal 2012, assuming it does not resolve its impasse with Express Scripts.
But seeking to downplay the potential impact of the dispute on its business, Walgreen said that more than 100 health plans, employers and various Express Scripts clients told it they have either had changed PBMs or made sure patients would still have access to Walgreens pharmacies in 2012.
Walgreen said the decision to part ways with Express Scripts cost it a penny per share in comparable pharmacy sales in the first quarter, and 1 cent per share in expenses.
Walgreen earned $554 million US, or 63 cents per share, in the fiscal first quarter that ended on Nov. 30, compared with a profit of $580 million, or 62 cents per share, a year earlier.
As of Nov. 30, Walgreen had given 5 million flu shots this season, down from 5.6 million last year at the same point.
Sales rose 4.7 percent to $18.16 billion, the company said in early December. Sales at stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, rose 2.5 percent. Prescription sales, which make up nearly two-thirds of business, rose 2.6 percent at drugstores open at least a year.