Pfizer Announces New Pharmacy Discount Card for Seniors
Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drug company, yesterday announced a plan to offer its drugs to low-income Medicare beneficiaries at a flat fee of $15 per month per prescription, the New York Times reports. Under the program, called the "Pfizer Share Card," individuals with gross annual incomes less than $18,000 and couples with annual incomes less than $24,000 can receive a 30-day supply of a prescription for $15, about a 75% discount, the company said (Pear/Petersen, New York Times, 1/16). Pfizer will charge no enrollment fee for the program and will not limit the number of discounted drugs that seniors may purchase. The company estimates that as many as seven million Medicare beneficiaries will qualify for the program, which begins March 1 (AP/Boston Globe, 1/16). Seniors who have prescription drug coverage through private insurers, Medicaid or state prescription drug programs will not qualify for the Share Card. The program will cover most Pfizer drugs, which include nine of the 50 most often prescribed for seniors. It will not include Celebrex, an arthritis treatment that is manufactured by Pharmacia Corp. and marketed by Pfizer (New York Times, 1/16). The pharmacy chains CVS Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have agreed to participate in the program (Powell, Boston Herald, 1/16). Pfizer hopes to reach agreements with additional pharmacy chains and independent drugstores. The company hopes to enroll one million Medicare beneficiaries in the Share Card program this year and plans to advertise the program on television and at hospitals, clinics, doctors' offices and pharmacies (New York Times, 1/16). "In communities across America, there are simply too many older Americans who are facing serious illness without the resources and help they need and deserve," Pfizer Chair and CEO Hank McKinnell said (Silverman, Newark Star-Ledger, 1/16).
McKinnell said he hoped that the Share Card program would "bridge the gap in drug coverage" for seniors until lawmakers add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, a proposal that has "stalled in Congress with the evaporation of the federal budget surplus" (New York Times, 1/16). The program also may allow Pfizer to "mute the growing chorus of complaints that drug makers charge too much" for their treatments (Newark Star-Ledger, 1/16). Analysts said that the Share Card will likely reduce the company's revenue in the United States by about 2.5%, even though some Medicare beneficiaries decide to participate in the program to purchase Pfizer drugs, rather than treatments from rival companies (New York Times, 1/16). Richard Evans, a drug industry analyst at the investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein, said that in the "worst case," Pfizer could lose up to $450 million per year in retail sales as a result of the program (Hensley, Wall Street Journal, 1/16). Several consumer groups, including AARP and the Alzheimer's Association, support the program (New York Times, 1/16). John Rother, policy director of AARP, said, "The public is outraged about prices, and Congress is increasingly critical. Many people in the pharmaceutical industry recognize that they need to do something, or the pressure will increase" (Appleby, USA Today, 1/16). GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Novartis AG have offered similar pharmacy discount card programs, but those companies offered only a 25% to 40% discount on the retail price of their drugs (Pierson/Tobin, Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/16).
Some consumer groups criticized the Share Card program. Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, called the program a "weak public relations substitute for providing true relief" to seniors through Medicare and predicted that "very few people, fewer than a million, will participate" (New York Times, 1/16). Larry Sasich of Public Citizen added that pharmacy discount cards offered by drug makers may "take the pressure off Congress" to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. "Little Band-Aids are being offered by the industry, which will only delay Congress from making a conscious decision," he said (Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/16). However, some drug industry analysts "fretted" that the Share Card may "inspire the government to force similar costly discounts" from other pharmaceutical companies. Evans said that Pfizer "didn't have to go this far to defuse the political pressure on the affordability of medicine for the elderly," adding, "What Pfizer is putting in place here is more generous that the most onerous proposal I saw on Capitol Hill" (Wall Street Journal, 1/16).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.