In the absence of any congressional action on a pharmacy benefit in Medicare, seven pharmaceutical companies have teamed up to offer a drug discount card that many call a vital first step in shoring up Medicare coverage.

Together Rx, as the initiative is called, is the strongest effort to date by drug manufacturers to help low-income elderly Americans gain access to needed drugs. Some discounts would reach more than 20 percent, depending on the product, while some companies said they would offer even deeper discounts to Medicare beneficiaries with incomes below $18,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples.

The seven participating companies are: Abbott Laboratories, AstraZeneca, Aventis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, and Novartis.

The cards will be offered for free to Medicare enrollees who do not have prescription drug coverage and who have incomes below $28,000 ($38,000 for couples). The program will be administered by McKesson.

Some physician groups applaud the effort. "The Together Rx card is revolutionary because it brings together several companies offering discounts on more than 130 common drugs," says Warren A. Jones, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "It is encouraging to see pharmaceutical companies working together to develop programs that are simple for patients and for family physicians to use in the office setting."

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Major health care players are determined to make health information exchanges (HIEs) work. The push toward value-based payment alone almost guarantees that HIEs will be tweaked, poked, prodded, and overhauled until they deliver on their promise. The goal: straight talk from and among tech systems.

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Shelley Slade
Vogel, Slade & Goldstein

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