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Your UCP: National October 13, 2003
Health & Wellness

Healthcare

GlaxoSmithKline Launches Discount Drug Program

GlaxoSmithKline orange logo and link to siteGlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has launched a discount drug card program for low-income elderly people who lack any other coverage. The plan could reduce the price of some drugs for seniors by at least 25%.

Under the Orange Card program, says a New York Times article by Melody Petersen and Milt Freudenheim, millions of seniors get orange cards to flash at pharmacies for discounts on GSK products. The drugs available under the plan include Avandia, for diabetes, Paxil, for depression, and Flovent, for asthma, the article notes.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) supports the plan, but stops short of "endorsing" it. HHS has proposed operating a similar program for Medicare beneficiaries, but it's been halted by a lawsuit against it.

HHS says it supports efforts by private companies – like the GSK drug card plan -- that help seniors expensive drugs. Currently, about one-third of Medicare's nearly 40 million eligibles pay full price, because the program doesn't have a drug benefit, and many HMOs in it have scaled theirs back.

To qualify for the GSK Orange Card, a member must be 65 or over and have an annual income at or below 300% of the federal poverty level, the article goes on, or about $26,000 for an individual and $35,000 for a couple. Also, it says, a senior can't have drug coverage through private insurance or qualify for Medicaid. GSK estimates, the article adds, that 11 million people could qualify.

A GSK spokesperson is quoted in the article as saying that many people start using the company's products for chronic illnesses, but stop because they cannot afford them. The program will make some GSK products cheaper than medicines sold by Pfizer, Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb. The GSK spokesperson is quoted in the article as predicting that some of those competitors will soon offer similar programs.

Pfizer is quoted as saying it would watch the GSK program before deciding, and Bristol-Myers Squibb is quoted as noting that it's considering new discount programs on top of the plans it already offers.

GSK products account for about 6% of seniors' prescriptions, the article continues. Even with the discount, it says, many of them may still be too costly. A month of Avandia, for example, sells for roughly $150, it says; with the discount, the cost drops to $115 – or about 5% of what a senior can make and still qualify for the program.

The drugmaker says in the article that it will guarantee that seniors will get discounts equal to 25% of what it charges wholesalers. The company adds in the article that it has asked pharmacies to help, too, with additional discounts.

Source - New York Times, 10/05/2001

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