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When I first heard about Pfizer Inc.'s (PFE) plans to give unemployed people free access to its most widely prescribed medicines, including the impotence treatment Viagra, I thought to myself, What a country!

Where else but America could we decide that people shouldn't have to pay for impotence treatments at a time millions are declaring bankruptcy because they can't pay their medical bills? The world's biggest drugmaker estimates that 46 million people lack health insurance, and that figure is increasing as unemployment climbs to its highest levels in 25 years.

Seriously, though, I think the drugmaker should be congratulated for extending America a pick-me-up that ranks right up there with the recent stock market surge and President Obama's inaugural address. After all, it's common knowledge that one of the biggest casualties of the high unemployment rate is a drop in national libido. Most unemployed men are in no mood to do anything but look for a job. That's bad because they are not going to get a job if they are anxious because they are showing a lack of interest in "activities" which used to interest them.

But that also means Pfizer's contribution to the recovery effort could lead to a "Viagra effect." An unemployed man uses Viagra and gains enough self confidence to land a job. He feels so good about himself that he gets his wife pregnant, creating a new consumer of goods. Unemployment goes down and consumer confidence soars. Everybody is a winner. Mind you, this economic theory probably has many holes in it since I just made it up. But if nine months from now it turns out I'm right and someone nominates Pfizer CEO Jeffrey Kindler for the Nobel Prize, a little recognition would be appreciated.

I should perhaps add that Pfizer's effort includes 70 of the company's drugs in all, including the cholesterol fighter Lipitor. Called MAINTAIN (Medicines Assistance for Those who Are in Need), it was created after Pfizer employees saw friends, family and neighbors struggle to make ends meet after losing their jobs. Dr. Jorge Puente, Pfizer's regional president of Worldwide Pharmaceuticals, said, "We thought there must be some way we could help recently unemployed people who are taking Pfizer medicines to continue treatment during these challenging economic times" (and "continue to have sex," he might have added).



While the public relations aspect of the program is important for the company, so is the financial one. The fight between big pharma and generic drugmakers for market share is going to intensify in the coming months as the Obama administration seeks to slash health care costs. Generic drugs are also looking increasingly attractive to cash-strapped employers who are footing the bill.

Pfizer, whose shares have tumbled 13 percent this year, can use some goodwill with the public. Revenue in the first quarter fell 8 percent to $10.89 billion amid declining sales for Viagra, Lipitor and its well-known anti-depressant Zoloft. The company's program is similar, on the face of it, to the Partnership for Prescription Assistance effort run by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the main drug company lobby. But I'm betting it has considerably more upside.

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