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A helping hand

Pfizer responds to critics' taunts by launching a campaign telling people how they can get free and discounted drugs

Pfizer has launched a new advertising campaign to boost awareness of a programme that provides US citizens who do not have health insurance with free or discounted drugs.

The world's largest company is using a TV spot, website and print ads to encourage patients to apply. The effort is part of Pfizer's attempt, announced earlier this month, to tone down its direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads in favour of a more educational approach towards health issues.

The move comes at a time of increasing consumer and congressional criticism of the US pharma industry's DTC advertising and marketing tactics.

Despite the patient prescription assistance programme, which is called Pfizer Helpful Answers, being launched in July 2004, so far only a tiny percentage of eligible participants have enrolled.

Under the scheme, individuals without prescription drug coverage with annual incomes of less than $19,000 and families with annual incomes of less than $31,000 can receive Pfizer products for free from doctors' surgeries, health centres and hospitals.

Families without prescription drug coverage with annual incomes of between $31,00, and $45,000 can receive average discounts of 37 per cent on Pfizer drugs while those on more than $45,000 can receive average discounts of 15 per cent.

The TV ad shows a variety of different people, including children and a baby, on a sky-blue background while animated pills, capsules and bottles swoop around them. It will air on national cable and network television stations.

ìAll kinds of people need medicines but don't have prescription coverage,î says a female voiceover. ìIt's personal to them and it's personal to us.î

Viewers are then told that whatever their age or income, they can save money on Pfizer medicines ìor even get them for free.î They are then urged to call a freephone number.

Pat Kelly, head of Pfizer's US pharmaceutical business, said the ad campaign would help the company reach millions who could benefit from its programmes. ìPursuing and maintaining good health depends on access to consistent, quality care and prescription medicines are a key part of that care,î he said.

Under fire

Pfizer has come under fire from some local services organisations, who claim the company has made little effort to plug its assistance programmes to the uninsured.

ìIt's good that companies offer these programmes, but it's a nightmare to try to access them, ì commented Mary Ellen Howard, executive director of the St Frances Cabrini Clinic in Detroit.

Jack Cox, Pfizer Helpful Answers spokesman said the company had no current enrolment figures for the programme and denied that the company had waited too long before launching the ad campaign.

ìVery few pharmaceutical companies have put up national television advertising,î he said. ìWe normally have to do a lot of market research before we decide to turn on a television ad campaign.î

He added that since Helpful Answers was launched last year, Pfizer had formed partnerships with patient groups, physician groups and advocacy organisations and gone directly to as many communities as possible to target people who would benefit from the programme.

2nd September 2008

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