Ten major drug manufacturers unveiled a new discount card Tuesday that could help millions of uninsured Americans save money on prescription drugs.
The Together Rx Access Card (search) program allows those who meet income and age requirements to save 25 percent to 40 percent — and sometimes more — on more than 275 brand-name prescription drugs (search) and a host of generic drugs (search).
It's the latest in a trend by drug makers to offer their own discount cards for those without health care coverage who struggle to pay skyrocketing drug prices.
"It's free to get, it's free to use and the savings are real," said Roba Whitely, executive director of Together Rx Access. "The companies in Together Rx Access have stepped forward because they all feel it's the right thing to do and they are able to do it."
To qualify for the card, applicants must be under 65, not eligible for Medicare and have no other private or public drug coverage. They also must have incomes no higher than $30,000 for a single person, $40,000 for couples and $60,000 for a family of four.
Whitely said the benefits could cover 80 percent of the 45 million Americans who are uninsured and don't carry prescription drug coverage.
Consumer groups have called similar discount cards a way for drug companies, rather than the government, to control who saves money and how much is saved. The cards offer some savings from already high prices while attracting new customers for the companies' products.
"It's a positive step but at the same time it strongly underscores the need for governmental action to expand coverage for the uninsured," said Ron Pollack, executive director of consumer group FamiliesUSA (search). "That has not been a priority for this administration."
Over the past four years, the number of uninsured Americans has grown from 40 million to 45 million — including more than 8 million children. About eight out of 10 Americans without health insurance are in families in which someone is employed, working at a full-time job or a series of part-time jobs that do not provide health care coverage.
In a statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson praised the program as "a commonsense, pragmatic way to give the uninsured access to prescription medicines."
The companies took out ads in major newspapers Tuesday touting the program.
Seven of the 10 companies joined in 2003 to offer another discount card for low-income seniors, the Together Rx card, which has enrolled nearly 1.5 million cardholders and helped save more than $700 million on prescription drugs.
Those who qualify for the new program can enroll by visiting the Web site, www.TogetherRxAccess.com, or by calling 1-800-444-4106. Enrollment forms also will be available at participating pharmacies and doctors' offices. The card will be effective by the middle of next month.
Companies participating in the program include Abbott Laboratories Inc.; AstraZeneca PLC; Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.; GlaxoSmithKline PLC; Janssen Pharmaceutica and Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Inc., part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies; Novartis AG; Pfizer Inc.; Sanofi Aventis Group SA; Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America Inc.; and TAP Pharmaceutical Products Inc.