Stop Demonizing the Good Guys

Published November 1, 2001

Before September 11, President George W. Bush and many members of Congress promised to make prescription drug benefits part of Medicare. Given the current state of the union, the timeline has moved to next year.

But some relatively little-known free-market programs offered by virtually all pharmaceutical manufacturers have been making it easier to afford medications for many years.

More than 60 drug manufacturers have what can be best described as “patient assistance programs.” Those programs make it more affordable for Medicare recipients, especially those with low incomes, to buy their prescription medications.

Pfizer, for example, provided free—not discounted, but free—drugs for 600,000 people last year.

Through their assistance plans, drug companies provide free medicines for those who have no prescription drug coverage and whose incomes fall below certain levels, regardless of age.

The income limits are not at all strict, and in some cases people earning up to $50,000 a year can qualify. One unavoidable step is you must apply separately to each company making your medications. The drugs are usually dispensed by doctors, and patients have to re-qualify regularly. A little bit of personal effort here goes a long way toward saving money.

Little Awareness

The drug makers do not brag about this charitable endeavor and they do not advertise their programs. Some doctors are unaware of the programs, and others don’t want to get involved because of the potential paperwork. Due to a lack of media coverage, most Americans are unaware of this assistance.

You needn’t pay for information about these pharmaceutical assistance programs. A directory of pharmaceutical companies offering such plans, along with information on eligibility requirements, is available free of charge from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Web site. The 2001-2002 directory is available at

More Upbeat News

A recent PhRMA survey found there are hundreds of new drugs in development aimed at diseases affecting senior gals and guys like me. New medicines in the pipeline for Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease are among the many promising treatments in development for these and other diseases of aging, according to a new survey released in October 2001.

The 261 medicines in development for diseases affecting the elderly, combined with previous PhRMA surveys on cancer, heart disease, and stroke, now show there are 785 medicines in the development stage—all designed to enhance longevity and improve the quality of life.

Cancer, heart disease, and stroke are the leading killers of seniors. There are currently 402 medicines in development for cancer and 122 in development for heart disease/stroke. All of the potential medicines are either in clinical trials or awaiting final approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

“This promising research on diseases of aging comes at a time when the elderly population is growing at an unprecedented rate,” said PhRMA President Alan F. Holmer. “Our aging populace underlines the need for prescription drug coverage for seniors, who expect and deserve access to the fruits of medical research. Medicare drug coverage must be crafted in a way that gives seniors access to the medicines of today and provides incentives for companies to discover the medicines of tomorrow.”

Doing the Right Thing

PhRMA represents the country’s leading research-focused pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, which are devoted to inventing medicines that will allow patients to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. To this end, the PhRMA companies have invested a combined total of more than $30 billion in 2001 in an effort to discover and develop new medicines. If now is not the time to give credit where credit is due, when is it?

Instead of the incessant demonizing of the pharmaceutical industry, we should pause to reflect on the incalculable good those firms have accomplished so far. Every successful attempt to tax away to reduce profits will eventually weaken the research and development component of the firms’ work. In the end, it will be the consumer who loses.