NEW YORK: When Pfizer unveiled a new program offering deep drug discounts to uninsured Americans, the first questions from journalists probed Pfizer's motives.PR did factor prominently in the program, but not in the way journalists have charged, Pfizer officials argued. When asked whether it was spurred by high-profile drug-importation stories, Pat Kelly, president of US pharmaceuticals at Pfizer, denied that the initiative is simply a good PR move. "The impetus for this program is the 43 million uninsured, which existed before any bus went to any other country," he said at the July 7 press conference unveiling the initiative, called Helpful Answers. He added that he was "fully cognizant" of the perceptions of the drug industry. But PR has played a significant role as Pfizer both communicates the reasoning behind the decision and encourages low-income Americans to take advantage of the program. The drug maker currently works with two agencies, Edelman and APCO Worldwide, for communications support around issues concerning policy, said Michal Fishman, director of public affairs for Pfizer US pharmaceuticals. Since the launch, Edelman has been forging relationships with groups that might partner with Pfizer on the Helpful Answers program. In addition, "there are going to be grassroots efforts to get the word out," Fishman explained. "That's going to take a communications strategy that's pretty comprehensive." The program includes provisions for "navigational assistance," including a toll-free number with live operators and a website, Kelly said at the press conference. Pfizer also has retained APCO for another policy-based program it recently unveiled. The agency is providing PR support for the Medicare-approved U Share discount card. The U Share card replaced the Pfizer Share Card, an account also handled by APCO. Pfizer has had a longstanding relationship with both Edelman and APCO, Fishman noted.