Pfizer Announces Program To Provide Prescription Drug Discounts to Uninsured U.S. Residents
Pfizer representatives in New York on Wednesday announced an initiative that aims to provide prescription drugs at discounts of 15% to 37% to an estimated 43 million uninsured U.S. residents, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Loyd, Philadelphia Inquirer 7/8). The initiative expands upon the company's existing prescription drug assistance program, through which it distributed more than $500 million in medications to 1.2 million people last year (Silverman, Newark Star-Ledger, 7/8).
Under the new initiative:
- Pfizer will offer average discounts of 37% to individuals without prescription drug coverage who have annual incomes of less than $31,000 and families with annual incomes less than $45,000.
- Individuals without prescription drug coverage and annual incomes higher than $31,000 and uninsured families with an annual income higher than $45,000 will be eligible for average discount of 15% off retail prices (Ostrow/Walsh, Bloomberg/Washington Post, 7/8).
- Medicare beneficiaries who have exhausted a $600 subsidy available under the new discount card program will be eligible to pay a flat fee of $15 per Pfizer prescription (Howard Price, Washington Times, 7/8).
Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell said, "We're offering an American solution to an American problem" (Krauskopf, Bergen Record/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/7). Pat Kelly, president of Pfizer's U.S. division, said, "From now on, all uninsured Americans will have the same purchasing power as larger insurers when buying Pfizer medicines, and that means more people can be treated before their conditions become serious" (Hall/Morath, Detroit News, 7/8). Kelly added, "We wouldn't be so presumptuous as to say this will solve the larger problem," but the initiative is a "step in the right direction" (Dixon, Reuters/Houston Chronicle, 7/8).
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said, "This is a reasonably good thing. Any significant help for the uninsured is much appreciated" (Appleby, USA Today, 7/8). He added, "There are two issues here -- one is affordability for the uninsured, which this attempts to address, the other is affordability for everyone else." However, Pollack said, "By no means does this curb runaway drug prices" (Newark Star-Ledger, 7/8). Robert Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, said, "Pfizer's new programs will offer real lifelines to people in need," but they "will only help a small fraction of those in need" (Washington Times, 7/8). Girish Tyagi, an analyst with Thomas Weisel Partners in Boston, said, "In truth, an insured person can get the drug a lot cheaper, even the HMOs and the group buyers get them a lot cheaper, than what Pfizer is offering the uninsured at 15% off" (Washington Post, 7/8). AARP New York Director Lois Aronstein said, "We applaud Pfizer for making drugs available for many seniors in need, but it doesn't help a lot of people who pay high out-of-pocket drug costs. In 2003 prescription drugs increased 3.4% when inflation climbed only 1.2%" (Soo Youn, New York Daily News, 7/8).
According to USA Today, the initiative "could set a precedent for other companies" to implement similar programs (USA Today, 7/8). However, no other large drug manufacturers have made an effort to follow Pfizer's lead, leading some analysts to conclude that the drug industry "will continue to face pressure" from lawmakers, the Star-Ledger reports (Newark Star-Ledger, 7/8). According to Bloomberg/Post, by creating the program, Pfizer is "trying to pre-empt legislation that would set price controls on medications in the United States and legalize drug imports from Canada" (Bloomberg/Washington Post, 7/8). The Detroit News reports that the initiative "will likely help relieve" such political pressure (Detroit News, 7/8). Other drug companies, including Merck, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneza, offer programs for low-income uninsured people with various discounts or no-cost prescriptions (Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/8). APM's "Marketplace" on Wednesday reported on Pfizer's offer of no-cost and discounted medications to uninsured U.S. residents. The segment includes comments from Kelly; Daniel Mullins, associate professor of pharmacoeconomics at University of Maryland's School of Pharmacy; and Stuart Schweitzer, associate director of University of California-Los Angeles' Research Program in Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy (Palmer, "Marketplace," APM, 7/7). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.