P&G pushes OTCs for seniors near Part D gap

February 19, 2007

What is Medicare Part D? What is the coverage gap? What's the best way to manage spending to delay or avoid reaching the coverage gap? What should seniors do if they are in the coverage gap? What medication options exist?

Seniors can get the answers to these and other related questions, thanks to a new education program called Manage Part D. The program was launched by Procter & Gamble-maker of Prilosec OTC-and the American Pharmacists Association to provide information about Part D, the coverage gap, and OTC medication options. Included in the program are brochures and a Web site at http://www.ManagePartD.com/.

Timothy Covington, executive director of the Managed Care Institute at Samford University and a P&G spokesman, told Drug Topics that about four million people hit their coverage limit in 2006. "That number is going to increase in 2007 and beyond because we are going to have more recipients. This program teaches people how to manage Phase 1 of the drug benefit and stretch it so they don't arrive at the coverage gap before they have to."

Noting that about 50 million Americans suffer from frequent heartburn, Covington said, "Prilosec OTC is a low-cost alternative to a brand-name prescription version of a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). It doesn't eat up Phase 1 of the drug benefit. A brand-name PPI can cost over $100 a month. At $1,200 a year, that's half of the $2,400 that is the coverage limit of Phase 1 of Part D."

Covington went on to recommend that consumers use OTCs to manage their allergies. "About 34 million Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis. Antihistamines are the drug of choice to manage the symptoms. One of the last drugs that went from Rx to OTC status was Claritin, a nonsedating antihistamine. It went OTC at its former prescription strength just like Prilosec, because of its safety and effectiveness."

Covington also noted that OTC antihistamines, decongestants, and cough suppressants can be used to treat coughs and colds, and that OTCs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be used to manage mild to moderate pain, including headaches. "How many people need to take daily low-dose aspirin for its cardioprotective effect who aren't taking it?" he asked. And OTCs may also be used to manage constipation, he added.

Covington emphasized that pharmacists can play an important role in helping consumers understand their OTC options, and that seniors should talk to their doctor and their pharmacist before they substitute OTCs for their Rxs.

"This program will sensitize pharmacists to how important nonprescription drug therapy can be in a patient's life. It's especially critical with seniors because of the three phases in the Medicare Part D benefit. They need to stretch Phase 1 to avoid getting to that coverage gap where they virtually have no financial help," he said, adding that the margins on OTCs are very good for pharmacists.

Brochures can be ordered on-line at the Web site cited above.

Prilosec OTC has also teamed up with Weekly Reader to distribute information and facilitate informational sessions in more than 1,000 senior centers. Weekly Reader Corp. Custom Publishing helps organizations connect with customers.

In a separate but related development, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, maker of Tylenol, has launched an educational Web-based program called "Answers in the Aisles: Increasing Understanding about OTC Medications," which can be found at http://www.AnswersintheAisles.com/. The site offers tips on choosing and administering OTCs to adults and children.