TULSA, Okla. -- The pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. pulled off a public relations coup yesterday by using the National Governors' Association summer meeting as the forum to announce plans to donate prescription medicines for up to 1 million homeless, migrant or working poor around the nation.
The medicines -- an array of brand-name Pfizer products used to fight infections, to ward off depression, or to treat diabetes, cardiovascular ailments or other illnesses -- are to be distributed through a voucher system by some 300 community health clinics and pilot projects nationwide.
Pfizer officials said three health centers in Baltimore would be invited to participate: the Park West Medical Center, Health Care for the Homeless and Baltimore Medical Systems.
Edward C. Bessey, president of Pfizer's U.S. Pharmaceuticals Group, estimated the program will cost the company as much as million the first year but said that cost only represents one-half of 1 percent of Pfizer's U.S. pharmaceutical sales and would not result in higher drug costs for paying customers.
Freda Mitchem of the National Association of Community Health Centers said the medicines are so widely used that she believes the cost to the company will be substantially higher.
It is not unusual for drug manufacturers to donate medicine, but the scope of Pfizer's program drew gushing praise from a handful of governors who participated in yesterday's news conference.
NGA Chairman Roy Romer, the Democratic governor of Colorado, called the plan "an innovative approach by a private-sector company to help fill a gap." The "gap" refers to those who are poor and uninsured but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who is a physician, said he had reviewed the list of donated drugs and was impressed by their value to patients.
"They're expensive, and they're widely used in medical practice," he said. "These drugs are essential in the everyday practice of medicine."