Seven major drug companies are offering elderly consumers a discount card that will let them save on more than 100 brand-name drugs.
The Together RX Card will be offered free to eligible Medicare enrollees, the companies said.
Participating in the new card are Abbott Laboratories, AstraZeneca, Aventis, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson Inc. and Novartis.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, in a statement, called the card a "tremendous new initiative."
The companies said the card will offer discounts on more than 145 widely used drugs, including many used to treat asthma, arthritis, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
There is no charge for the cards, which will be available to people who lack prescription drug coverage and have incomes of up to $28,000, or $38,000 for couples.
The companies said discounts will range from 20% to 40% off the price individuals usually pay.
Enrollment for the Together RX Card begins immediately and the cards become effective in June, according to the announcement.
The companies said other drug firms are welcome to join the group.
Two other major pharmaceutical companies have announced their own discount cards--Pfizer Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co.
Merck & Co. on Tuesday spurned the industry trend and said it would not offer drug cards, but would make its assistance program for patients without drug coverage more convenient.
Under its long-standing Patient Assistance Program, Merck will offer home delivery of drugs and will not require patients with chronic ailments to ask for a new prescription every 90 days.
The program offers many of the company's medicines free of charge to any patient without prescription drug coverage who has an annual individual income less than $18,000, or an annual household income less than $24,000.
Medicare, the federal health insurance program for elderly Americans, does not cover prescription drug costs.
Although a proposal has been discussed in Washington for years to include prescription drug coverage, no measure has received congressional approval.
Merck spokesman Greg Reaves said the company supports a plan that would create a comprehensive card for seniors to cover medications from several companies.
Separately, Abbott Laboratories posted a first-quarter profit of $854.3 million, or 54 cents a share, matching analysts' expectations, as revenue rose 18% to $4.19 billion. The company had lost $223.6 million, or 14 cents a share, in the year-earlier period, when it had expenses for an acquisition and a litigation settlement.
Abbott also said it expects second-quarter profit of 53 cents a share, 2 cents less than analysts' average estimate.
Its shares rose 71 cents to $52.66 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Associated Press and Reuters were used in compiling this report.