Drug Firms Offer Limited Help to Medicare Enrollees
Many low-income Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in the prescription drug benefit receive no help from patient assistance programs operated by pharmaceutical companies, according to advocacy groups, USA Today reports. Many pharmaceutical companies ended their PAPs after the Medicare prescription drug benefit began because of concerns that the programs could violate federal anti-kickback laws.
In response, federal officials said that pharmaceutical companies legally can operate PAPs under certain conditions. PAPs operated by some pharmaceutical companies -- such as AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Pfizer and Wyeth -- provide help for low-income Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in the prescription drug benefit, but dozens of other programs do not allow any beneficiaries to participate.
Patricia White, executive director of West Virginia Health Right, said, "Before the Medicare program, we had close to 4,000 seniors getting free drugs," adding, "We're probably down to 400 now."
In May 2006, several members of the Senate Finance Committee met with officials for eight pharmaceutical companies and asked them to continue to operate their PAPs.
Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Friday in a statement said, "A company ought to be ashamed if it's still using (the Medicare drug program) as an excuse to abandon people with these extraordinary needs."
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spokesperson Ken Johnson said that about half of PhRMA members operate PAPs that provide help for low-income Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in the prescription drug benefit but added that many members have concerns about the legality of the practice (Appleby, USA Today, 2/5).