On June 1, 44 million seniors became eligible for federal drug-discount cards. The cards expire in 2006, when a new Medicare drug insurance program begins. Meanwhile, the competition is fierce.
INSURERS AND DISTRIBUTORS
Companies such as UnitedHealth and Medco, a drug wholesaler, are teaming up to market cards. Although they don't expect to make much money, they hope to lock in customers whom they can convert into their insurance networks in 2006.
The card may bring in some new buyers, but because most discounts are coming out of drugstore profits, it may batter margins. Pharmacies also worry that the card will drive more seniors to mail-order purchases.
The likes of Merck and Pfizer hope the cards will help sell more pills without cutting too deeply into their margins.