Drug firms' image problem


The nation's drug manufacturers have a poor public image these days. No mystery why: Medicine is more expensive than ever. So the manufacturers have launched a $10 million campaign to help consumers who can't afford their drugs find programs that will help them.

In an effort to redeem themselves, Partnership for Prescription Assistance will help the uninsured and under insured navigate hundreds of private and public programs. Ads in national newspapers and on television tell people to call a toll-free number or to visit its Web site.

Drug companies deserve credit for establishing themselves as a guide between those who have no prescription insurance or too little insurance to programs that will assist them in buying medication.

It's a daunting enough experience for health-care professionals to wend their way through hundreds of public and private programs that can help. It's a lot tougher for consumers.

Pharmaceutical firms have brought their image on themselves. They objected to legislation to reduce what consumers pay for prescriptions by allowing drugs made in this country to be re-imported from foreign nations where they are cheaper.

Of course, the industry is doing a good thing by investing $10 million in the PPA effort. But when Americans spend around $200 billion a year on prescription drugs, consumers will be skeptical.

The ads identify numerous health research agencies, foundations, and academies that have joined the effort. PPA might also consider spreading the word at neighborhood centers, schools, churches, synagogues, and mosques. The more that people are aware of the program, the more they benefit, and the more the drug companies' shaky image is likely to improve.