Medicare demo to pay for antiviral drugs

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As part of a recently announced demonstration project, Medicare will pay for antiviral drugs for some flu patients.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Friday that it will allow patients who are not enrolled for drug coverage to get help in paying for four drugs that are known to treat influenza. The medications are: Roche AG's Tamiflu, also known as oseltamivir; zanamivir, sold by GlaxoSmithKline under the brand name Relenza; amantadine and rimantadine.

The objective of the demonstration project, according to CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, is to gather useful evidence on how prescription drug coverage affects the health and costs for Medicare beneficiaries before the 2006 drug benefit goes into effect.

Medicare will allow each Medicare patient to fill as many as two prescriptions through May of 2005.

While there has been a well-publicized shortage of influenza vaccine for the 2004-2005 flu season, health officials say flu outbreak has been relatively mild to date.