Eleven Pharmaceutical Companies Announce Prescription Drug Discount Card Program for Uninsured U.S. Residents
Eleven pharmaceutical companies on Tuesday announced a new prescription drug discount card program for uninsured U.S. residents that will provide "significant" discounts on 275 brand-name medications, the Boston Globe reports (Rowland, Boston Globe, 1/12). The Together Rx Access program is a collaborative effort among Abbott Laboratories; AstraZeneca; Bristol-Myers Squibb; GlaxoSmithKline; Janssen Pharmaceutica and Ortho-McNeil, subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson; Novartis; Pfizer; Sanofi-Aventis; Takeda Pharmaceuticals; and Tap Pharmaceutical Products (Snyder, Arizona Republic, 1/12).
The pharmaceutical companies announced the program on Tuesday at a news conference with HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and in full-page advertisements in newspapers nationwide (Boston Globe, 1/12). The program is similar to a current prescription drug discount card program, Together Rx, which is a collaborative effort among seven pharmaceutical companies to provide discounts on medications for Medicare beneficiaries (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 1/12).
The federal government has no role in the new program.
U.S. residents younger than age 65 who are not eligible for Medicare and do not have public or private prescription drug coverage will qualify for Together Rx Access, "the latest effort by drug makers to meet public demand for their products while dispelling public anger about prices," the New York Times reports. In addition, annual income levels for program participants must not exceed $30,000 for individuals, $40,000 for couples, $50,000 for a family of three and $60,000 for a family of four (Pear, New York Times, 1/12).
The pharmaceutical companies estimate that about 80% -- or 36 million -- of the 45 million uninsured U.S. residents will qualify for the program (Arizona Republic, 1/12). The program will provide discounts on 275 brand-name prescription drugs -- such as the anti-cholesterol treatments Crestor and Lipitor, the heartburn medication Nexium, the erectile-dysfunction treatment Viagra, and the antidepressants Zoloft and Paxil -- as well as a number of generic medications. Discounts for brand-name treatments will range from 25% to 40%.
Patrick Kelly, a vice president of Pfizer, said that total savings for program participants will depend on individual discounts provided by pharmacists, as well as pharmaceutical companies.
Roba Whiteley, executive director of Together Rx Access, said that each of the 11 pharmaceutical companies decided which of their products the program would cover and the level of discounts on those medications. She added that most pharmacies nationwide will accept the Together Rx Access cards by mid-February, when the program begins. However, she did not specify which pharmacy chains will participate because "negotiations are still underway" (New York Times, 1/12).
Potential participants can enroll in the program online or call a toll-free telephone number (Pugh, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/12).
"We saw the opportunity to ... reach a different segment of the population. We saw a need," David Brennan, CEO of U.S. operations for AstraZeneca, said (Chicago Tribune, 1/12).
David Martin, president of managed markets at J&J, said, "The bottom line is that we believe this is the kind of program that companies like Johnson & Johnson should be participating in" (Schwab, Newark Star-Ledger, 1/12).
Michal Fishman, a spokesperson for Pfizer, said that company officials do "not anticipate that this will have a material impact on the company, although we are taking a hit" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/12).
Kelly said that Together Rx Access likely would have a small effect on the finances of Pfizer because in the past enrollment in similar programs "has been slow" (New York Times, 1/12). The pharmaceutical companies plan to air ads for the program on television.
A spokesperson for Merck said that the company plans to announce a separate prescription drug discount card program in the next few weeks (Newark Star-Ledger, 1/12).
Thompson said that Together Rx Access is "a common-sense, pragmatic way to give the uninsured access to prescription medicines" (Arizona Republic, 1/12). He added, "There are some cynics out there who will say that it is not enough. But it is a wonderful step forward. Government alone cannot solve this very complex problem" (Chicago Tribune, 1/12).
Whiteley called the program a "first-step solution as policy makers and key opinion leaders work to resolve the bigger public health issue of America's uninsured" (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 1/12). She added, "It's free to get, it's free to use and the savings are real" (Hananel, AP/Long Island Newsday, 1/11).
Bruce Roberts, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, said that the group supports Together Rx Access, and the National Health Council said members will work to promote the program. AARP, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill also support the program.
In addition, a "wide range of groups and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle praised the effort," such as Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 1/11).
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, called the program a "positive development" but added that "it underscores the critical importance of making expanding coverage of the uninsured a top national priority" (Wall Street Journal, 1/12). He said, "I think what these drug companies are doing is very commendable, and it will be of benefit to people who are uninsured. Of course, it's nowhere near being an adequate substitute for our nation making a real commitment to expanding coverage for the 45 million who don't have coverage today" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 1/11).
According to CQ HealthBeat, Together Rx Access could "lessen pressure for legislation in Congress" to legalize the reimportation of lower-cost prescription drugs from other nations. At the new conference on Tuesday, Thompson said, "This certainly supplants and possibly replaces the need for low-income Americans to go to Canada to get their drugs."
However, supporters of reimportation legislation said that the program does not adequately address the issue. "I compliment them for at least recognizing that pricing is a problem but would prefer that we have a fair price for all consumers," Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said. He added that he plans to introduce reimportation legislation "almost immediately" after the Senate returns from recess.
A spokesperson for Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), who supports reimportation legislation, said that Together Rx Access "doesn't change the fact that rank-and-file Americans do not have access to affordable prescription drugs." He added, "This wouldn't impede any efforts to push importation legislation" (CQ HealthBeat, 1/11).
Several broadcast programs reported on Together Rx Access:
- APM's "Marketplace": The segment includes comments from Pollack; Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of political economy at Princeton University; and Thompson (Palmer, "Marketplace," APM, 1/11). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment includes comments from Pollack; David Stout, president of GSK; Thompson; Whiteley; and an uninsured U.S. resident (Costello, "Nightly News," NBC, 1/11). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.