Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will announce today it is expanding a program offering $4 prescriptions for some generic drugs to 14 more states, two weeks after rolling out the low-cost program in Florida.

Wal-Mart said Wednesday it would call news conferences in states from Vermont to Alaska but declined to say what they are about, except that they involved “a major new initiative” for consumers.

One state official familiar with the expansion, who declined to be named because the topic is supposed to be kept confidential, confirmed the announcements would be about $4 generics coming to those states.

Wal-Mart said it expected to expand the program nationwide when it announced Oct. 5 that it was rolling out the plan in Florida after a successful test in the Tampa area.

Wal-Mart launched the program in what it called an effort to save working Americans money on health care. Critics said it was a stunt to draw in business and a grab for a bigger share of the drug business.

The Florida plan covers a month’s supply of 314 prescriptions. That number is made up of 143 drugs in a variety of dosages and solid or liquid forms.

At the time of the Florida announcement, Minneapolis-based Target Corp., the country’s No. 2 discounter behind Wal-Mart, said it would match its rival’s lower prices in Florida.

Wal-Mart said it will host news conferences today with company executives and elected officials in the following states: Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Vermont.

Walgreen Co., one of the nation’s biggest drug store chains, said it would not cut prices.

CVS Corp., based in Woonsocket, R.I., referred to a statement it issued when Wal-Mart began the Tampa trial. CVS said at that time that co-pays for most generics were already low and that the chain “has always provided its customers with very competitive pricing.”

It is the latest health care initiative by Wal-Mart since late last year, as the nation’s largest private employer seeks to deflect union-backed criticism of its worker benefits.

Health care experts said any price competition is welcome but noted that generics are less of a burden to consumers than higher-priced brand-name drugs that are still under patent.

AP-ES-10-18-06 1929EDT

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