Merck & Co says it to launch a new prescription drug discount programme, which will entitle uninsured Americans discounts of between 15% and 40% of many of the company’s drugs.

Merck notes that around 15.6% of the US population – or over 45 million people – lacked health insurance coverage in 2003. “While this programme doesn’t solve the problem of uninsured Americans, we believe it is a step in the right direction,” said Margaret McGlynn, Merck’s president of US human health.

The Merck Prescription Discount Programme, which will be formally launched on April 25, comes as the debate over the importation of prescription medications continues. A new poll commissioned by the US drug giant shows that 49% of US citizens worry about losing their health insurance and prescription drug coverage more than losing a job (30%) or their home (37%). In addition, it highlights that a majority of Americans who have imported drugs from other countries, including Canada, did so because of the cost savings (56%). However, the poll also found that 73% of respondents would join a discount prescription programme and purchase their medications in the US if the cost of their prescriptions were comparable. Merck claims that the discounts available on most of its products in the new initiative are greater than or competitive to those available through Canadian pharmacies.

A rival discount card, Together RX, was launched earlier this year by a coalition of ten pharmaceutical companies, and entitles members to savings of between 25% to 40% off the price they pay more than 275 branded prescription drugs [[12/01/05a]].