updated 11/16/2006 2:01:12 PM ET 2006-11-16T19:01:12

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. expanded a $4 offer for some prescription generic drugs to 11 more states Thursday in its plan to reach all 50 states by as early as January with the discount program.

The world’s largest retailer, under mounting political pressure led by union groups over its labor practices including health insurance, says the program that now covers 38 states will contribute to lowering the cost of health care in America. The program provides a 30-day supply of some prescriptions at the discount price.

Critics including union-led groups and the National Community Pharmacists Association, which represents non-chain pharmacies, have called the discounts a publicity stunt that covers only a fraction of the 8,700 generic prescription drugs approved by the Federal Drug Administration.

Since first testing the plan in the Tampa, Fla., area in September, Wal-Mart has expanded the offer in three waves to now encompass 3,009 stores. States added Thursday were Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer said the latest expansion also adds 17 varying dosages and forms, although no new drugs, to the discount list that now totals 331 prescriptions. That number is made up of 143 drugs in a variety of dosages and solid or liquid forms.

“No one should be denied access to the medications they need, and this program is a big step in moving our customers and communities toward access to affordable medicines,” Wal-Mart Chief Executive Lee Scott said in a statement.

Wal-Mart’s statement did not specify when the other states would be reached, only that it was working as quickly as possible.

But Wal-Mart’s vice president of investor relations, Carol Schumacher, told an analyst meeting Wednesday that the company is “looking to be in all 50 states toward the end of this fiscal year,” which ends Jan. 31.

Wal-Mart said the list covers generic forms of 14 of the 20 most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, based on a list of the top drugs compiled by the Web site www.rxlist.com.

Analysts said the main benefit for Wal-Mart was in drawing more shoppers into its stores who may come for prescriptions and then stay to buy in other departments.

Reaction from Wal-Mart’s chain rivals has been mixed. After the earlier expansions, No. 2 discounter Target Corp. matched the discounts state-by-state. Other chains including Walgreen Co. said they would not change prices that they contend are already competitive, especially for people with insurance who only foot the cost of a copay.

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