New U.S. Medicare law may affect free drug programmes offered by drugmakers

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Under the new U.S. Medicare drug law, thousands of low-income Americans might lose access to free or highly discounted drugs offered by drugmakers, a news source reports.

The new law gives seniors access to drug coverage beginning in 2006, but gaps in that coverage could wind up costing thousands of dollars a year. GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman Nancy Pekarek said that the company has not yet made any decisions concerning its free drug programme. "We've had this programme in place for a long time, recognising there are people who fall between the cracks in the system and need some assistance," she is quoted as saying. "My guess is there will still be people falling between the cracks after 2006."

Pfizer's director of U.S. philanthropy, Rick Luftglass, said changes to its programme, through which Pfizer provided 1.7 million patients of all ages with free or nearly free drugs in 2002, were "up in the air and hard to answer at this point." Pfizer also offers a discount card to help patients better afford its medicines, but when the new law goes into effect, Medicare will offer its own drug discount card.

One concern voiced by Robert M. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, is that "the drug companies may decide to end their discount cards because of the Medicare discount card," he is quoted as saying.

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