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Recession Means Free Rx Drugs for Some

Drugmakers Are Expanding Programs That Provide Free Drugs for the Unemployed

Do You Qualify for Free Drugs? continued...

Under Pfizer's Maintain program anyone who has lost a job since the beginning of the year may qualify for free drugs if they:

  • Have been taking a Pfizer drug for at least three months prior to becoming unemployed and enrolling in the program.
  • Have no prescription drug coverage.
  • Can prove financial hardship.

Those who quality will receive drugs free for up to a year, or until they become reinsured. The program is open for enrollment through the end of the year.

Efforts by other drugmakers include:

  • Merck has expanded its 50-year-old patient-assistance program to include an estimated 350,000 more Americans, spokeswoman Amy Rose tells WebMD. The company recently doubled the maximum income allowable to qualify for assistance, meaning that a family of four with an annual household income of up to $88,200 can now qualify for free medications. The previous maximum income was $44,100.
  • Abbott Pharmaceuticals will help the majority of the 180,000 people taking the biologic medication Humira pay for the drug, which can cost thousands of dollars a year. Under the Humira Protection Plan, uninsured or low-income patients can get the drug for free and insured patients who qualify can get the drug for an out-of-pocket cost of around $60 a year, Abbott spokeswoman Elizabeth Hoff tells WebMD.
  • AzstraZeneca provides free or low cost drugs through its AZ&Me program. Under the program, an uninsured family of four with an annual income of $60,000 or less may qualify for free drugs, while Part D beneficiaries who make $30,000 a year or less or $40,000 or less per couple may qualify for reduced-cost drugs.


Drug Prices Continue to Rise

While the programs may be helping those who qualify for assistance, a report released in April suggests that those who don't are paying more than ever for brand-name prescription drugs.

An AARP investigation found that the cost of top-selling, brand-name drugs rose by 8.7% in 2008, while inflation rose by just 3.8%.

The cost of the acid reflux drug Prevacid  increased the most, by 30%, followed by a 21% increase for the depression drug Wellbutrin and a 20% increase in the sleep drug Lunesta.

AARP legislative policy director David Certner tells WebMD that brand-name drug prices have been increasing by roughly twice the level of inflation for around a decade, while the cost of generic drugs has declined.

Johnson disputes the claim, charging that AARP cherry-picked the drugs included in its report to make it look like drug costs are rising faster than they are.

The report found that the cost of the generic drugs examined declined by around 10% in 2008.

"The best way to save on drug costs is to choose a generic whenever possible," Certner says.

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