Big Pharma Expands Discount Card Coverage

May 01, 2002

Pictured from left to right: Paulo Costa, president and CEO, Novartis; Robert Ingram, COO and president, pharmaceutical operations, GlaxoSmithKline; Richard J. Markham, CEO, Aventis; David Brennan, president & CEO, North America, AstraZeneca; Donald J. Hayden, Jr., president, North American medicines, Bristol-Myers Squibb; David B. Goffredo, president, pharmaceutical products division, Abbott Laboratories; Christine A. Poon, worldwide chairman, pharmaceuticals group, Johnson & Johnson.
In response to public pressure for relief from high prescription costs, seven pharma companies will establish the joint discount card program "Together Rx" for Medicare beneficiaries. The participants-Abbott, AstraZeneca, Aventis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, and Novartis-said they will offer discounts of 2-40 percent off "list" retail prices for low-income Medicare enrollees-those with under $38,000 income per couple. McKesson is administering the program and hopes to sign up a broad network of cooperating pharmacies.

One aim of the initiative is to reduce consumer confusion stemming from the recent proliferation of pharmacy discount cards from manufacturers, states, and pharmacies. However, Pfizer and Eli Lilly, which have their own programs, are not on the list of seven. And Merck plans to expand its patient assistance program instead of joining the card consortium. The company says it is trying to make it easier for people to sign up for its free access program by publishing a toll-free number and distributing medicines directly to patients.

Consumer advocates warned that the card discounts might be fairly small and that patients could be hit with changes in coverage and discounts. Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, termed the program a pricing "shell game" because the discounts are based on company wholesale prices that are "likely to rise."

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