Medicare drug-discount programme begins

Medicare's discount card programme for pharmaceutical drugs got off to a slow start Tuesday, as major drugmakers and others compete to offer U.S. seniors price cuts of 12 to 50 percent on their medications, Bloomberg and The New York Times report.

More than 5 million low-income patients are eligible for free drugs from Merck, Johnson & Johnson and Novartis through the cards. And Eli Lilly, Abbott, AstraZeneca and Wyeth are offering greater discounts to Medicare beneficiaries who enrol with certain drug cards.

"What's in it for the drug companies is access to the senior market, which is by far the largest individual market in the U.S.," Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is quoted as saying in Bloomberg. "It's going to be incumbent on the drug companies to give seniors what they want, which is better medicines at lower prices."

The Bush administration estimates that 7.3 million Medicare beneficiaries, out of 41 million, will sign up for the cards this year and that the cards will cut retail drug prices by 10 to 25 percent. But early enrolment numbers generally appeared low, news sources report, as seniors tried to sort through information on the 73 programmes available to them.

To read more Top Story articles, click here.