Extra drug benefits offered for low-income Medicare beneficiaries

Share this content:

Drug companies are sweetening the pot for some low-income seniors when it comes to the new Medicare drug discount program set to begin in June. Novartis was the latest to announce, saying Wednesday it would provide cost-free prescriptions to low-income Medicare beneficiaries who use up a $600 credit from the government.

Medicare-approved drug discount card sponsor partners must agree to terms of Novartis' plan before it could formally be instituted, the company said. Third-party payments, perhaps $5 or $10 per prescription, would still be the responsibility of the individual.

Similarly, Merck & Co. earlier announced it would charge low-income Medicare beneficiaries just dispensing fees after their $600 credit is used up. Also, Eli Lilly and Co. has said low-income Medicare eligible seniors who use up their $600 credit could purchase its drugs for $12 per month. Pfizer Inc., meanwhile, has indicated it will allow seniors to purchase medications for a flat monthly $15 fee for those participating in its ShareCard program.

Under the discount drug program in the Medicare reform law passed in December, individual seniors with an income below about $17,000, or couples earning below $22,800 would be eligible for the $600 credit.

A combination of the $600 federal assistance, plus offers from drug companies, could save some seniors 40% to 90%, said James Firman, president of the National Council on the Aging, in testimony before a Senate panel earlier this year.