Seven Drug Makers Unite to Offer Pharmacy Discount Card Program
In the latest effort by the pharmaceutical industry to offer savings to seniors, seven drug companies plan to announce today that they will jointly offer a discount card to low-income Medicare beneficiaries that they say will produce savings reaching more than 20% on dozens of prescription drugs, the New York Times reports. Abbott Laboratories, AstraZeneca, Aventis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and Novartis will make the Together Rx Card available to seniors enrolled in Medicare who have no prescription drug coverage and annual incomes no higher than $28,000 for individuals and $38,000 for seniors. The companies, which have created their own discount plans that will be linked through the new card, estimated that 11 million beneficiaries will be eligible (Petersen, New York Times, 4/10). The card is intended in part to "tame customer confusion" about the many discount cards offered by drug makers. The discounts will "vary by income and manufacturer," the Wall Street Journal reports, and will be available for more than 130 drugs. Some of the companies said they would offer greater discounts to seniors with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level -- $18,000 for individuals and $24,000 for seniors (Harris/Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 4/10). Enrollment in Together Rx begins today, with discounts available starting in June (Wiggins, Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/10). The program's success will depend on the participation of pharmacies, which said yesterday that they would review the plan. The card will be administered by McKesson Corp., a San Francisco-based drug wholesaler (Wall Street Journal, 4/10).
The Together Rx program marks the most expansive effort yet by the industry to provide seniors with lower-cost medicines in the absence of congressional action on a Medicare drug benefit, the Chicago Tribune reports (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 4/10). Since last summer, four drug makers have launched their own discount plans, raising concerns that seniors could have difficulty sorting out the various programs. GlaxoSmithKline, whose Orange Card is open to Medicare beneficiaries with incomes up to $26,000 for individuals and $35,000 for couples, said it will continue the program along with its participation in Together Rx. Novartis, which also recently unveiled its own card, said it would discontinue its program once Together Rx begins (Brubaker, Washington Post, 4/10). Pfizer and Eli Lilly, which already offer many of their medicines to low-income seniors for $15 and $12 copays, respectively, are not participating in Together Rx (Washington Post, 4/10).
The Bush administration praised the industry's collaborative effort. White House economic adviser Mark McClellan said, "This is exactly the kind of program that we would like to make sure is as widely available to seniors as possible" (New York Times, 4/10). But consumer advocates questioned how much savings Together Rx will actually produce. AARP policy director John Rother said, "It will help, but it won't solve the problem. Clearly, people taking a lot of medications will still have trouble affording them" (Appleby, USA Today, 4/10). Rother said he was more encouraged by a separate announcement by Merck, which will now promote its nearly 50-year-old free-assistance program for low-income people by putting a toll-free number in print ads for some of its drugs and by making it easier for people to sign up and receive the drugs. Previously, doctors had to inform patients about the program and patients had to return to their physician's office to pick up medications. The program, which Merck said helped 350,000 people last year, is generally open to individuals of all ages who earn less than $18,000 and couples who earn less than $24,000; some people with higher incomes may also be eligible (New York Times, 4/10). Rother said that other drug makers, most of which operate similar assistance programs, should follow Merck's lead. David Anstice, the head of Merck's drug business, said, "We think our program is better for patients than a card for one simple reason -- you don't have to pay anything" (Silverman et al., Newark Star-Ledger, 4/10).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.