Survey finds CVS repeatedly overcharges city consumers

Boston’s largest pharmacy chain may be more careless than it is caring, according to two recent surveys investigating how CVS pharmacies throughout the city, including Dorchester locations in Uphams Corner and Grove Hall, responded to discrepancies between advertised prices and register ring-ups.

“What our second set of data shows is that CVS hasn’t really made an effort to change their behavior,” said Faron McLurkin, a spokesman for Cure CVS, the organization behind the investigations. Cure CVS is part of Change to Win, a coalition of labor unions.

The latter survey was a follow-up to an earlier study where surveyors uncovered and pointed out price discrepancies to CVS employees. The more recent survey found that eight of the ten stores investigated, about one third of the city’s total, did not rectify certain incorrect prices more than 24 hours after Change to Win alerted the store to the problem. The average overcharge was 37 cents.

A press conference was held last Thursday at City Hall to release the latest findings. At-large City Councillor and candidate for Mayor Sam Yoon spoke at the event, condemning unfair retail pricing practices.

“Unfortunately, the fines and penalties have not forced CVS to correct the situation. Rather it seems that these fines have become just part of the cost of doing business,” Yoon said.

In a written statement, Mayor Thomas Menino said it is important to him that consumers are protected from unfair business practices.
“I will continue to urge state lawmakers and the administration to ensure that every business in the Commonwealth plays by the rules,” Menino’s statement read.

A statement from CVS spokesman Michael J. DeAngelis stated that the company makes “every effort to ensure that the prices in all our stores are accurate,” and that CVS always honors the lower of the two prices. The statement accuses Chance to Win of using highly skewed or false information in order to disparage CVS. Investments in technology and training have been made to ensure that CVS is in compliance with Massachusetts law, the statement reads.

Massachusetts law requires stores to label the current price of each item, either with a shelf label or individual price tag, regardless of temporary price changes or sales. According to the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, and as reported by the Boston Globe, CVS Caremark Inc. faced almost 2,800 alleged violations for state pricing law between January 2007 and August 2008. The fines for the violations totaled to over $275,000.

At the Uphams Corner location, researchers were overcharged 40 cents for a box of CVS brand trash bags on two different occasions, the second coming after CVS employees were informed. A package of candy was overpriced by 30 cents and not corrected at the Blue Hills Avenue store.

Yoon said he will introduce a resolution into the City Council this week supporting more stringent government oversight of retail pricing.

He called on those assembled at the press conference to oppose several measures in the state legislature that would weaken or eliminate existing price labeling law.

CVS Caremark is among the largest pharmacy chains in the country and has 328 locations in Massachusetts.