NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Pfizer, the nation's largest pharmaceutical company, has ended its widely used discount card for the elderly, according to a newspaper report Wednesday.
The action left 536,000 low-income Medicare beneficiaries without access to discounts on popular medicines, according to the New York Times.
The newspaper said under the former Pfizer card a 30-day supply of the popular cholesterol treatment Lipitor had cost $15, compared with $68 at one Internet pharmacy or $43.32 at one Canadian Web site.
Pfizer said it had warned cardholders for months it would discontinue the card program on August 31, and encouraged them to sign up for other discount cards available under a new Medicare program that began in June, reported the Times.
But consumer advocates said the new program was so confusing that it had asked Pfizer to keep its discount card until 2006, when prescription drugs become a standard part of Medicare benefits, said the newspaper.
The Times said only about 4.1 million of the nation's 40 million Medicare beneficiaries have signed up for Medicare-approved discount cards.
"An extremely savvy consumer can swim in these waters successfully," Robert AM. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a non-profit advocacy group, told the newspaper.
"(But) usually the needier the person, the sicker the person, the more likely they will be shut out of these programs."