Drug companies offer Medicare discount card

Seven major pharmaceutical companies are offering qualified Medicare enrollees savings on more than 150 medicines at participating pharmacies.

The Together Rx Card is available free to an estimated 8-11 million Medicare beneficiaries who lack public or private prescription drug coverage and who have incomes of less than $28,000 a year ($38,000 for couples). In addition, during the enrollment process, individuals of more limited income who meet eligibility requirements for patient assistance programs provided by the individual companies or by foundations supported by each of the individual companies will be notified by McKesson, the Together Rx Card administrator, that they may qualify for further savings, and in some cases free medicines.

The founding members of Together Rx, LLC — Abbott Laboratories, AstraZeneca, Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, and Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., estimate that savings can range from approximately 20% to 40% off the price usually paid for the drugs at the pharmacy. Each company sets its own level of savings independently with a minimum discount of 15% off its list price to wholesalers. Actual consumer savings will vary depending on the pharmacy’s customary pricing for the specific drug. Products offered are subject to change.

These caveats raise a cautionary flag that all seniors should understand, says Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, Washington, DC.

"In effect, the drug companies are alerting us to a potential shell game in the pricing of drugs. Although discounts of 15% or more may be announced, those discounts will apply to company-established wholesale prices that the companies admit are likely to rise. Therefore, the real discounts received by seniors will be considerably smaller than 15% off the prices they pay today, and the drugs subject to those discounts are likely to change," Pollack says.

Together Rx Card enrollment already has begun, and cards should become effective this month. The individual companies’ sales forces are assisting in making enrollment materials available through participating pharmacies, physicians’ offices, and community centers.