Pharma giving away more meds to needy

Big Pharma's charitable drug-giving goes front and center today. Thanks in part to a free, not-for-profit website that connects patients to assistance programs offered by drugmakers,  more and more needy people are getting the medications they need for free or at low cost, the Washington Post reports. Another reason for the growth in drug giveaways is simply that pharma companies are offering Patient Assistance Programs--or PAPs--for more drugs, and they're making it easier to access those programs.

Pfizer, for instance, operates an umbrella group to help get meds; the company offered $800 million worth of drugs (at wholesale prices) to needy patients last year. AstraZeneca enrolls uninsured patients with incomes below $30,000 into one program; these patients contact the drugmaker every quarter for their refills. In some cases the company has provided drugs in bulk to government clinics so that patients can bypass paperwork.

Why do drugmakers do it? The story speculates that it's a combo of good corporate citizenship and public relations--but given the fact that these PAPs "fly under the radar," the story says, the profit motive doesn't seem paramount. Will these programs survive the current business pressures on drugmakers? The companies say so. Investors? We'll find out.

- read the article in the Post