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Drug companies kick off $10 million campaign to aid uninsured

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Drug manufacturers, under fire from consumer advocacy groups for opposing legislation to reduce prescription costs, kicked off a $10 million campaign Tuesday they said would help poor Americans gain access to the medicines they need.

Throughout the country, hundreds of public and private programs already provide some assistance to consumers who can't afford their prescriptions. But finding out about the programs and accessing them can be a daunting bureaucratic task for doctors, let alone consumers.

The new program establishes a Web site and calling centers to match consumers with the program that best suits their needs. The drug manufacturers' partnership is spending $10 million to launch the campaign. It took out full-page advertisements Tuesday in several large newspapers and will also air ads on television.

Drug manufacturers have been criticized for their opposition to pending legislation designed to reduce the cost of prescriptions through such measures as allowing drugs made in the United States to be reimported from countries where the drug is available at a lower cost.

``This is serious business. This is going to be very expensive for the companies, but they're willing to make this commitment to save the free-market system in America,'' said Billy Tauzin, a former House committee chairman who is now president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Consumers can access the Partnership for Prescription Assistance program by calling a toll free number _ 1-888-477-2669, or through the Internet at www.pparx.org.

The federal government will provide prescription drug coverage next year for the first time under Medicare, but Tauzin said that millions of uninsured Americans will still need help for them to afford their medicine, so the program will probably expand in coming years, even with the new government benefit.
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