As overall health care costs continue to rise sharply, prescription drugs have emerged as a surprising exception.
Economists say the slowdown has come about because more people are turning to generics and because generic versions of some of the most common drugs have recently come on the market.
Another factor could be the so-called Wal-Mart effect. Last fall, Wal-Mart began offering many generic prescriptions at $4 a month. Target quickly announced a similar plan, and Kmart expanded its program, which offers a 90-day supply of generic drugs for $15. Other retailers have followed with their variations. Publix, a grocery store chain with 684 pharmacies in five states in the Southeast, announced last month that it would not charge for prescriptions for seven commonly used antibiotics.