WASHINGTON (AP) _ Low-income seniors with no drug insurance will be able to get a month's supply of prescriptions like the depression-treating Prozac and the osteoporosis-fighting Evista for $12 each.
The new drug assistance plan from Eli Lilly and Co. is the pharmaceutical industry's latest effort to help needy older Americans while the federal government debates broader coverage. In January, Pfizer Inc. announced a similar program offering a month's supply of one of its prescriptions for $15.
Lilly's program, called LillyAnswers, began Tuesday. It is open to seniors with no prescription drug coverage and annual incomes below $18,000, or under $24,000 for couples _ same as for Pfizer's plan.
Seniors can apply for a card by calling 1-877-RX-LILLY. The application process takes two to four weeks, and eligibility will be verified through copies of the applicant's most recent tax return and Medicare card. Participating pharmacies will begin accepting the card April 1.
Once a Medicare beneficiary receives the card, it is valid for one year. After a year, participants must reapply.
``Families, caregivers, communities and companies such as ours all recognize many seniors need extra assistance at this time,'' said Sidney Taurel, president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis-based Lilly. ``We hope and expect that Congress will enact federal legislation that provides broad prescription drug coverage to all seniors. In the meantime, we decided to act now in order to provide this assistance to individuals in need.''
Eligible participants can save an average of nearly $52 on a 30-day prescription or $600 in a year for one medication, the company said.
For instance, Evista, a drug for osteoporosis, has a retail price of about $782.74 a year, according to company figures. Participants in the program will pay only $144 in a year. Similarly, a year's worth of Prozac would retail about $1,000.29. At $144 a year, program participants would save $856.29.
``Lilly has taken an important step in helping the neediest of seniors gain access to critical prescription drugs,'' Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said. ``This innovative approach demonstrates the private sector's willingness to address this important issue between now and the time we implement Medicare reform.''
Congress is weighing how best to provide a prescription drug benefit to seniors. Democrats have said they want to make the benefit universal for all 40 million Medicare recipients. President Bush and other Republicans have called for first providing benefits to the most needy.
On Monday, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., the House Ways and Means Committee chairman charged with crafting such a plan, said House Republicans will propose a plan close to 60 percent more than the amount being sought by the president.
Bush included $190 billion, to be spent over 10 years, for a prescription drug benefit in his budget proposal. But Congress in its last budget earmarked $300 billion. This year's number will be slightly higher than last year's, Thomas said.