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Employee Benefits

A Welcome Rx

Employers give chronically ill workers a break on their medications.

Few topics elicit more frustration than the rising cost of prescription drugs. Employers have made employees pick up more of the tab. For some the policy backfired, as it meant sicker employees and heftier medical costs down the road. Now some companies have decided to pick up more -- in some cases all -- of the cost of some medicines.

What began as the strategy of a few bold organizations is catching on. "I'm talking to hundreds of companies," says health-care consultant Craig Dolezal, of Hewitt Associates. "Six or eight are looking to implement something for 2008."

Don't look for help across the board. But it might pay to inquire about subsidies for drugs used to treat prevalent, chronic diseases, especially if consistent use of a medicine will avoid complications later on. Pitney Bowes put drugs for diabetes and asthma in its lowest tier (10%) for co-payments four years ago, and added drugs for osteoporosis, seizures, blood clots and breast cancer this year. At Marriott, generic drugs for diabetes, heart disease and asthma are free; co-pays on brand-name drugs were cut in half.

The University of Michigan pays for Bonita Kothe's diabetes and high-blood-pressure meds, as well as for her testing strips, meters and diabetes-related doctor visits. "I really appreciate it," says Kothe, 61, an administrative assistant at the School of Education. "I've saved hundreds."