Drugmakers, pharmacies to offer discounts via new card

February 7, 2005

Low-income uninsured Americans will soon get the chance to save money on prescription drug purchases under a discount drug card program by 10 drugmakers announced last month.

Low-income uninsured Americans will soon get the chance to save money on prescription drug purchases under a discount drug card program by 10 drugmakers announced last month.

The card, called Together Rx Access, offers persons without Medicare or private prescription drug coverage discounts at participating pharmacies and is due to start this month. Organizers said that the cards would offer bearers 25% to 40% off 275 brand-name drugs, as well as similar discounts on most generics.

The Together Rx Access card is a new form of the Together Rx program. Both are offered by the same companies. But whereas Together Rx is geared to seniors and will be discontinued once the Medicare Part D benefit starts up next year, Together Rx Access targets needy patients and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Covered drugs include some of the most popular Rx products on the U.S. market, including Viagra (sildenafil) and Lipitor (atorvastatin) from Pfizer and Nexium (esomeprazole) capsules from AstraZeneca.

Uninsured U.S. residents with incomes below $30,000 per year and families of four living on less than $60,000 qualify for the cards. Companies said that they expect that approximately 80% of the 45 million Americans with no health insurance to be eligible for the free cards.

As many as one million persons are expected to sign up for the cards within the first year, said Roba Whiteley, executive director of Together Rx Access. "The participating companies are determined to help as many patients as possible start saving on prescription medications as quickly as possible," she told reporters.

Discounts on Rx drugs will come from a combination of contributions from drugmakers and participating pharmacies. Under the card's rules, manufacturers must offer a minimum of a 15% discount off their wholesale acquisition cost, or WAC, the price given to wholesalers.

Participating pharmacies are then compelled to discount a minimum of 12% of the average wholesale price (AWP), which comes to about 10% off the retail price. Together, those discounts combine for a floor savings of 25% off brand-name prices at the register for card-carrying consumers.

Beyond that, discounts will vary by individual product and company according to proprietary contracts, Whiteley said. Discounts are to be adjudicated automatically through the prescription benefit management company Independent Pharmaceutical Consultants.

In addition, "participating pharmacies will provide similar savings on all or almost all generics they carry," though final figures are still under negotiation, she said.

Health & Human Services secretary Tommy G. Thompson praised the program, saying that it would help expand access to prescriptions for disadvantaged consumers, especially African-Americans and Latinos who are more likely than whites to lack health coverage. "I'm sure there are some cynics out there who will say that's not enough, but it's a wonderful program," he said of the card's discounts.

It is not yet known how many pharmacies will participate in the plan, though Whiteley said that she expects "the vast majority" of outlets to agree to participate. "People who have the card should be able to use it at most pharmacies across the nation," she said.

Both the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association gave their backing to the cards. But neither organization chose to comment on the program or its operation when contacted by Drug Topics.

In addition to Pfizer and AstraZeneca, other participating companies include Abbott Pharmaceuticals, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen Pharmaceutical Products, Novartis, Ortho-McNeil, Sanofi Aventis, Takeda, and TAP Pharmaceutical Products.

A list of covered drugs can be found at http://www.togetherrxaccess.com/.