Finally, an Upside to Being Unemployed

Pfizer to offer free Viagra, Lipitor and others to jobless

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Pfizer plans to give 70 of its drugs, including Viagra and Lipitor, to the unemployed at no cost.

    Pfizer wants to let people who have lost their jobs and health insurance keep taking some widely prescribed Pfizer medications — including Lipitor and Viagra — for free for up to a year.

    The world's biggest drugmaker said Thursday it will provide more than 70 of its prescription drugs at no cost to unemployed, uninsured Americans, regardless of their prior income, who lost jobs since Jan. 1 and have been on the Pfizer drug for three months or more. The announcement comes amid massive job losses caused by the recession and a campaign in Washington to rein in health care costs and extend coverage.

    The move could earn Pfizer some goodwill in that debate after long being a target of critics of drug industry prices and sales practices. The program also likely will help keep those patients loyal to Pfizer brands.

    "Everybody knows now a neighbor, a relative who has lost their job and is losing their insurance. People are definitely hurting out there," Dr. Jorge Puente, Pfizer's head of pharmaceuticals outside the U.S. and Europe and a champion of the project, told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Wednesday. "Our aim is to help people bridge this point."

    Officials for New York-based Pfizer said they don't know how much the program will cost and haven't put a cap on spending for it.

    Applicants will have to sign a statement that they are suffering financial hardship and provide a "pink slip" or similar employer notice. Applications will be accepted through Dec. 31, with medication provided for up to 12 months after approval — or until the person becomes insured again. Starting Thursday, patients can call a toll-free number, 866-706-2400, to sign up, and those whose drugs are not included in the program will be referred to other company aid programs. Starting July 1, patients can also apply through the Web site, www.PfizerHelpfulAnswers.com, which has information about the other Pfizer aid programs.

    "There's a long-term benefit there, beyond the goodwill and the publicity," said David Heupel, health care portfolio manager at Thrivent Large Cap Growth Fund. "Pfizer is trying to maintain their (market) share, if not grow their share" by keeping people from switching to generic versions of its drugs to save money."