News & Events

Jobless can get free medicines (MS)

Pfizer plan likely to boost loyalty By Linda A. Johnson and Matthew Perrone Associated Press / May 15, 2009

The recession might be a little less painful for some Americans who won’t lose their prescription medications if they lose their jobs.

Pfizer Inc. said yesterday it will give away more than 70 of its most widely prescribed drugs, including Lipitor and Viagra, for up to a year to people who have lost jobs since Jan. 1 and have been taking the drug for three months or more. The program comes as the unemployment rate topped 8.9 percent in April.

Pfizer stands to benefit, too – by keeping its customers, and with a tax write-off that will cover much of the cost of the donations. The move also buys the world’s largest drug maker some good will as Washington looks to overhaul the healthcare system.

"Everybody knows now a neighbor, a relative who has lost their job and is losing their insurance. People are definitely hurting out there," Dr. Jorge Puente, Pfizer’s head of pharmaceuticals outside the United States and Europe, said Wednesday. "Our aim is to help people bridge this point."

The 70-plus drugs covered in the program include several diabetes drugs and some of Pfizer’s top money makers, from cholesterol fighter Lipitor and painkiller Celebrex to fibromyalgia treatment Lyrica and Viagra for impotence. Also included are some antibiotics, antidepressants, heart medications, contraceptives, and smoking cessation products.

Cheaper generic versions are available for most of the drugs.

The program will probably help prevent patients from switching to cheaper brands or generics through the worst of the recession and could help retain those taking top-seller Lipitor, which will begin competing with generic versions next year.

The giveaway was heralded by some as a brilliant marketing move that will generate low-cost publicity, build consumer loyalty, and keep inventory from piling up.

The 10 best-selling drugs included in the program accounted for more than $26 billion, or 64 percent, of Pfizer’s total sales last year.

Officials for New York-based Pfizer said they don’t know how much the program will cost.