Drug Maker Eli Lilly to Announce Pharmacy Discount Card for Medicare Beneficiaries
Eli Lilly today plans to announce a discount plan allowing Medicare beneficiaries to obtain its drugs for a $12 monthly fee, the "lowest-cost" industry discount plan yet, the Wall Street Journal reports. Called "LillyAnswers," the program will be open to Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities and to those over 65 who have incomes less than $18,000 annually for singles or $24,000 per household. The discount applies to drugs such as Humulin and Humalog for diabetes, the osteoporosis treatment Evista and the psychosis drug Zyprexa. Lilly says that five million patients could save an average of $600 each year by enrolling in the program. Pharmacies can begin accepting the discount cards beginning April 1, and those enrolled in the program will be covered for one year. The $12 cost "appears to undercut substantially" similar discount programs unveiled last year by Novartis AG and GlaxoSmithKline and is slightly less than the $15 price that Pfizer in January said it would charge for its new discount plan. Lilly Chair Sidney Taurel said, "We decided it was time for us to step in and assist the neediest of people on Medicare." He added, "We definitely support a drug benefit for all seniors. We are just being realistic that there is no guarantee something will be enacted this year." HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson is expected to speak at today's news conference to unveil the program.
The Lilly plan is the latest industry attempt to "stave off" government price controls, the Journal reports, but it is not yet clear whether the industry discounts will be enough to "diminish talk" in Congress about enacting price controls on drugs for seniors. Taurel said that while the industry is supportive of adding a drug benefit to Medicare, it is opposed to a program that would include government purchasing and price controls. The Lilly move also comes just days after the Bush administration announced its revised drug discount card plan for Medicare beneficiaries, the Journal adds (Burton, Wall Street Journal, 3/5). Under the administration plan, beneficiaries would pay up to $25 to obtain a discount card and receive an estimated average savings of 15%. Unlike the administration's original plan, which called for discounts to be extracted solely from pharmacies, the new version calls for both drug stores and drug makers to offer discounts if they choose to participate in the program (California Healthline, 3/1). In remarks prepared for today's press conference, Thompson says that the industry and administration discount plans "are only part of the solution" to cut drug costs for seniors.
The Journal reports that "few" believe Lilly's plan will be a "comprehensive solution" to making pharmaceuticals affordable to seniors. John Rother, policy director of AARP, said that while Lilly is "raising the bar about how generous" industry discount plans are, the eligibility requirements are still "tight." Rother estimated that only two million people "might qualify" for the program. Chris Jennings, a health policy consultant and former senior health care adviser in the Clinton administration, noted that there is no "time commitment" on how long the industry plans will be available. Further, he said, "Middle-income seniors will not be benefited. The history of a lot of these programs is they get a big bang, but the effort to reach people and enroll them isn't as great as the effort to publicize these programs in the first place." Still, National Association of Chain Drug Stores President Craig Fuller said Lilly's initiative could provide "meaningful benefit" (Wall Street Journal, 3/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.