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Eli Lilly to Discount Drugs for Needy Seniors - 2002-03-06

More and more U.S. drug manufacturers are offering discounts to help America's poorest elderly citizens get the medication they need. The latest discount package by the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly comes as the U.S. government works to overhaul its Medicare system and make costly drugs more accessible.

The U.S. national health insurance program, Medicare, was established in 1965 to protect people 65 and over from the high cost of health care.

However, due to rising health care costs and an aging population, Medicare is now in need of reform. Sweeping reform proposals by the Clinton administration were defeated in the U.S. Congress, while the Bush administration has just made a new proposal for a generalized discount drug program.

Eli Lilly Chief Executive Officer Sidney Taurel says his company will make its drugs available for just $12 a month to low-income Americans.

"It will bring real savings and right away to Medicare beneficiaries in the greatest need and it builds on our company's mission of helping people live longer, healthier and more active lives," said Mr. Taurel.

The Eli Lilly plan will offer cheap drug therapies for chronic diseases like diabetes and osteoporosis. It follows discount plans announced earlier this year by other major drug companies like Pfizer.

According to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, these corporate initiatives will work well in tandem with his administration's drug-discount-card proposal. "Now the private sector as it often does has stepped up to the plate in a big way," he said. "It has found a way to implement the president's plan to provide real savings and better access to seniors right away."

Critics of the White House plan say more than just discounts are needed to ensure cheaper drugs for elderly Americans. Congresswoman Julia Carson, who represents a district in the state of Indiana where Eli Lilly is based, said, "We have too many senior citizens who are in the predicament in having to compromise between either nutrition or housing or the cost of their medication. That should not be the case in America or in any other place in the world for that matter."

Many Democrat lawmakers want the government to provide full drug-benefit coverage for older people who become very ill and who face high drug costs. Some favor a plan under which the government would control the prices of drugs. But the pharmaceutical industry is opposed to government price controls.