Novartis to Offer Rx Drug Discount Card for Seniors
Swiss drug maker Novartis AG yesterday announced a new pharmacy discount card that would allow low-income seniors 65 and older to purchase the company's brand-name drugs at a discount of 25% or more, the New York Times reports (Freudenheim, New York Times, 11/8). Senior citizens who have incomes less than three times the federal poverty level -- $26,000 for individuals, $35,000 for couples -- and lack prescription drug coverage will qualify for the program, scheduled to take effect in January. According to Novartis representatives, about 10 million Americans will qualify for the "Care Card" program. The program will provide seniors with a 25% discount on the wholesale price of Novartis outpatient drugs, or a 30% to 40% discount on the retail price. One of two drug distributors -- Novartis is still negotiating -- will administer the program, but most seniors will enroll for "Care Card" through their pharmacies, Novartis CEO Dr. Daniel Vasella said. He added that he hopes the program will serve as a "base for further cooperation" between drug makers and the U.S. government to provide low-income seniors with "better access to medicines" (Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, 11/8). "If each [drug] company were to undertake a program similar to ours, there would be cost savings of $100 billion over the next decade for the most needy, elderly Americans," he said (AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 11/7). GlaxoSmithKline launched a similar program earlier this year (New York Times, 11/8). HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson praised the new Novartis program as an "innovative solution ... to make prescriptions more accessible to those seniors who cannot afford them" (Wall Street Journal, 11/8).
Meanwhile, consumer advocates and drug industry analysts said that the Novartis discount card program would have "little effect" on drug access. Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said, "Only a tiny, tiny portion of the elderly population is likely to avail themselves of such a card." He added that only one Novartis drug, Miacalcin Nasal Spray for osteoporosis, ranked among the top 50 drugs used by seniors in a Families USA poll last year. However, IMS Health reported that Novartis drugs accounted for about one in four of the treatments recommended by doctors to patients older than age 65 in the past year (New York Times, 11/8). According to the Wall Street Journal, the Novartis program represents "part of growing industry effort to address the battle over an explosion" in prescription drug spending, which has risen about 15% annually in the past few years (Wall Street Journal, 11/8). The New York Times reports that drug makers, including Novartis, hope to "burnish their reputations in hopes of deflecting pressure in Congress for measures that could increase the government's influence on drug prices." Vasella said, "The pressure on the industry has eased due to the war and bioterrorism," adding, "It's a good time to be proactive instead of defensive" (New York Times, 11/8).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.