HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, May 15, 2009

Free Drugs - Is this for real?

I am sure that most of you have heard that Pfizer has decided to offer free drugs to individuals who lose their jobs.  Here is a great take with some further information on the Maintain program from Doc Gurley writing at

Okay, just the threat of healthcare reform has industry promising to stop excluding the sick, to stop discriminating against women, and to hand over 2 trillion dollars to Obama. What else can they offer us, a kidney?  Um, try a little further south. Today Pfizer offered America Viagra. Free! For a year!

If, that is, you can prove a) that you've been on it for three months, and b) you have lost your job. Clearly there's no longer any reason to feel unmanned by a lay-off. You can still hold your head high.

The PR for this move is phenomenal - tales of weeping reps, company meetings spent wondering how to help all the diabetics who can't afford their medicines. The Pfizer answer, obviously, was free Viagra. Or Lyrica. Or Lipitor. Or Celebrex, which, BTW, very few people should be taking any more...

If you're noticing a theme with that list of drugs, you're not alone. Rumor is, these particular drugs may have been picked as freebies because there are way cheaper (and equally effective) generics out there. . . .   By offering these drugs free, in addition to lots of great PR, Pfizer can build brand loyalty and keep patients from switching to generics.

As a doctor, I wanted to find out what other free drugs are available. . . .    I called the 1-866-706-2400 Pfizer information number, sat on hold, punched the "doctor" number and then got transferred to the free-drug program line. I spoke to an informed, competent actual human being (named Jennifer). The way the program will work is that you must apply, showing both that you were employed (then laid off - keep that severance letter!), that you were on one of these drugs for three months, and that you were/are not eligible for pharmacy benefits. To get the pills, a doctor would then re-write a prescription, and a 90-day supply of the drugs will be mailed directly to you on an on-going basis, free-of-charge, for one year, or until you're re-insured. Basically Pfizer will function as a direct-to-you pharmacy benefits service. I went down a list of their products and asked about a Pfizer brand drug in several categories to see if it was covered. Jennifer kindly looked them up one by one to see if they would be free.

Check it out:

  • A seizure drug, Dilantin - free
  • Injected once-a-month birth control, Depo-Provera - free
  • A diabetes pill, Glucotrol - free
  • An anti-psychotic, Geodon - free
  • A sleeping pill, Halcion - free
  • An antibiotic, Zithromax - free
  • Jennifer and I could only find one, rarely used inhaler, Spirivia - free
  • An antidepressant, Zoloft - free

Pfizer Score: A

I'm serious - and this from little ole cynical moi. The only reason Pfizer didn't get an A+ is because they don't have an actual list to share yet - with doctors or the public. I also asked a clinical question, which was: How can an antibiotic be on the list - almost no one should be taking one for three months continuously. Jennifer admitted that could be an issue, but didn't have an answer.

Bottom line:

The Pfizer free drug giveaway program, called Maintain, is better than I expected. If you've been (and stay) a loyal Pfizer customer, you could be unemployed and get many of your pills through the mail - at least that's the promise for now.. . .

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