Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
Merck-Medco Launches Program to Offer Generic Drug Samples to Physicians
Merck-Medco Managed Care, a subsidiary of Merck & Co., is expected to announce a new program called Generics First, in which pharmacist-trained salespeople will offer generic drugs -- including generic versions of Merck's
own brand names -- in face-to-face physician visits, the Wall Street Journal reports. Merck's move, a "first" for the pharmaceutical industry, is expected to spur business for the company's managed care unit and buy Merck "political good will," suggesting Merck is working towards lowering prescription drug costs. A Merck spokesperson says the
company supports the "appropriate use" of generic drugs, perhaps because the money saved by using generics is then available to pay for more expensive "breakthrough drugs" made by Merck and
other companies, the Journal notes. Nationwide, about 41% of prescriptions filled in 1998 were generics, yet generic drugs accounted for only 9% of overall prescription costs. Merck's new program would also benefit generic drug manufacturers, who do not have the money or human resources for marketing to physicians. For example, the generic-drug division
of Novartis AG has agreed to provide Merck-Medco with samples of ranitidine, the generic equivalent of Glaxo Wellcome PLC's Zantac; in turn, Merck-Medco will fill all of its mail-order prescriptions with Novartis's version of the drug. Merck's plan is "aggressive"; brand-name pharmaceutical companies gave physicians and nurse practitioners free drugs retail valued at
more than $7.2 billion last year and have deployed at least one drug salesperson for every 10 U.S. physicians (Martinez, Wall Street Journal, 11/14).
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