Pfizer to offer free drugs for jobless

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TRENTON, N.J. – Pfizer Inc. says it will provide 70 of its most widely prescribed prescription drugs –- including Lipitor and Viagra – for free to people who have lost their jobs and health insurance.

TRENTON, N.J. – Pfizer Inc. says it will provide 70 of its most widely prescribed prescription drugs –- including Lipitor and Viagra – for free to people who have lost their jobs and health insurance.

The world’s biggest drug maker said recently it will give away the medicines for up to a year to Americans who lost jobs since Jan. 1 and have been on the Pfizer drug for three months or more.

The announcement comes amid massive job losses caused by the recession and a campaign in Washington to rein in health care costs and extend coverage. The move could earn Pfizer some goodwill in that debate after long being a target of critics of drug industry prices and sales practices.

The program also likely will help keep those patients loyal to Pfizer brands.

“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 U.S. and Europe and a champion of the project, told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview 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. Drugs from several other popular classes such as antibiotics, antidepressants, antifungal treatments, heart mediations, contraceptives and smoking cessation products also are included. Cheaper generic versions are available for quite a few of the drugs.

Pfizer said that from 2004 through 2008, its patient assistance programs helped 5.1 million people get 51 million Pfizer prescriptions for free or at reduced cost, with a total value of $4.8 billion.

The idea for the program came just five weeks ago, at a leadership training meeting, as the workers discussed how many patients are struggling, Puente said.

He said he urged top management to approve the program, presenting a recent Associated Press article about how newly uninsured diabetics are suffering serious complications because they can no longer afford the medicines and testing supplies. Approval came quickly.

“It was my idea,” he said. “I floated it, and the reception it got was so dramatic that it very quickly became our idea.”

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