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Ride The Rx Express

by Jerry Flanagan

For the week prior to the Republican National Convention -- August 23rd to August 26th -- the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) will charter a train to take seniors, insured and uninsured patients, and small business owners to Vancouver, Canada to buy more affordable prescription drugs.

In a letter sent today, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights invited President Bush and Democratic nominee Senator Kerry to join the Rx Express to discuss the need for a national prescription drug bulk purchasing program. Currently, Canada and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs negotiate bulk discounts of 30-60% on prescription drugs .

The Rx Express will include seniors who cannot get access to the drugs they need under the new Medicare discount card program.

Pharmaceutical companies -- who have opposed bulk purchasing -- are playing hard ball: seven pharmaceutical companies gave between $2.5 million and $5 million to the Democratic convention host committee, in the hope of forestalling any change in their profits, which are four or five times greater than the Fortune 500 average. Five companies have contributed to the upcoming Republican convention.

The Rx Express riders include:

** Carole Jaquez, 78, who has made the trek from her home to the Mexican border several times in the last two years to buy her prescription drugs. She has cutback on visits to her two sons living in Florida, but Carole cannot keep up with the cost of her 8 prescriptions that run between $350-$400 per month. Carole has tried to make sense of the Medicare drug discount card program but cannot find a company that will guarantee that her prescriptions will be available when she needs them.

** Pat & Dave Parker, both over 60, who have seen their Blue Cross premiums and drug co-pays increase by over 80%. Blue Cross blames skyrocketing prescription drug costs as the reason for rate increases. The Parkers point to the $607 million in executive bonuses that company executives will receive in the pending merger with HMO giant Anthem. Both companies have refused to promise that Dave's drug co-pays won't increase because of the merger.

** Bill Clarke, now 67, who takes a prescription that runs $1200 a month to control seizures resulting from a high school football injury. His wife, Sonja, 66, retired from her job with the county two years ago. Sonja's retirement plan provides health insurance through Kaiser to supplement prescription drug coverage under the Medicare program but that plan does not cover name-brand drugs. There is no generic equivalent for the medication Bill needs. As a result, Bill and Sonja were forced to sell their house to pay for Bill's health care costs. Now have the Clarke's have the "option" of paying $718 dollars a month in insurance premiums or take a bare-bones plan that costs $217 a month but won't pay for Bill's medication.

** Dr. Paul Smith who has seen the health care delivery system from the points of view of a physician and a scholar. Dr. Smith is also a patient, and takes multiple medications following his stroke in 1996. He spends roughly $1,000 a month on prescription drugs. Dr. Smith has become intensely involved in promoting changes in the health care delivery system, in part by exposing myths about the safety of drugs sold in Canada and efficacy of a national prescription drug bulk purchasing program. "Effective lobbying by Big Pharma" has given Americans the wrong idea, he says, and prevented reforms from seeping down from Canada into our health care system.

** Small business owners, Sharon and Barry Fowler, who struggled to afford basic health care and prescription drug coverage for their two employees. In December, the Fowler's small business was forced to shut down because of a grocery store strike over health cost increases -- putting their two employees out of work at the holiday season. The disruption in business was too much for the business to bear. The Fowlers were forced to close up shop for the last time in March.