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Senior Journal

Rx Express Train Taking West Coast Seniors to Canada


President Bush, Kerry Invited to Join the Trip to Buy Low-Cost Drugs

August 17, 2004


Aug. 17, 2004 -- A chartered train dubbed the Rx Express will leave San Diego, California, on Aug. 23 and gather senior citizens in communities along the way to Vancouver, Canada to buy prescription drugs. The sponsoring Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights (FTCR) has invited President Bush and John Kerry to join the trip.

Calculate Drug Savings

A group supporting the Rx Express -- The Civil Society Institute -- provides an interactive calculator on the organization's website allowing patients to calculate how much they would save if the U.S. adopted policies to bulk purchase prescription drugs.

Available at http://www.resultsforamerica.org -- the group says it has tallied $46 million dollars in savings since it became available to patients in November 2003.

"As our on-line drug calculator indicates, Americans are being shortchanged by pharmaceutical companies," said Frank Smith of the Civil Society Institute.

Results for America's "Canadian Drug Savings Calculator" allows consumers to gauge savings on nearly 50 of the most popular prescription medications. For example, the calculator shows that an American consumer who buys the widely prescribed osteoarthritis pain relief medication Vioxx and takes one pill per today would spend $524.16 a year less at Canadian prices, or a total of $10,483.20 over 20 years. Similarly, a person taking Lipitor, for treatment of high cholesterol, would save $338.52 per year -- or $6,770.40 over 20 years.
 
This Rx Express will stop in dozens of towns in California, Oregon and Washington and pick up senior, patients and small business owners along the way.

A group of U.S. seniors saved more than half a million dollars when they joined an Rx Express bus trip in June, according to the Alliance for Retired American's, which came up with the idea for these Canadian drug buying excursions, which are spreading across the country.

The bus trips from United States cities to Canada--where prescription drugs are substantially cheaper than in the U.S.--were undertaken to dramatize the exploding cost seniors must pay for prescription drugs and the need for a Medicare prescription drug benefit, according to the Alliance.

Alliance officials said 378 seniors visited doctors and purchased prescription drugs that saved them an average of $1,340 per person, on an annual basis, or $506,845 total. Several members of Congress joined the bus trips that departed from such cites as Burlington, Vt., Detroit, Mich., Grand Forks, N.D., Seattle, Wash., and Anchorage, Alaska. The average bus ride was 277 miles and seniors spent an average of 14 hours round trip, including time spent with the doctors and filling the prescriptions.

"The Rx Express demonstrates the urgent need for action by Congress on an affordable Medicare prescription drug benefit," said Alliance Executive Director Ed Coyle before the Rx Express rolled north.

The bus trips, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), show just how "ludicrous it is for U.S. citizens, especially older Americans, to have to go to Canada to purchase lower-cost medicines because of the lack of a prescription drug benefit within the Medicare program. We must bear in mind for every person making the trip to Canada, there are others who are far worse off physically and who need lower-priced medications even more. Unfortunately, they cannot physically board a bus."

According to the Alliance, older people account for 13 percent of the U.S. population but more than one-third of the drug expenditures. Nearly one-third of older Americans, 11 million, lack drug coverage of any type in the course of a year.

Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities have poorer health and require a greater number of and more expensive medications than the Medicare population as a whole. Although many qualify for Medicaid, 28 percent lack drug coverage from any source.

In the letter to Bush and Kerry the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights -- a nonpartisan and non-profit consumer advocacy group -- wrote:

"You will never have a problem affording the prescription drugs you need to stay healthy. However, 1 out of 4 seniors must choose between buying their medications and paying for other staples like food and rent... You have both pledged to make health care -- and specifically access to lower cost medications -- a top priority if you are elected president in November. We invite both of you to join us on board the Rx Express to hear from seniors and other patients about how prescription drug bulk purchasing can lower drug costs for all Americans."

In the letter sent Aug. 11, FTCR cited heavy lobbying by pharmaceutical companies opposing prescription drug reform as one reason that Bush and Kerry should ride the Rx Express:

"We know you have heard from the pharmaceutical companies because they employ more lobbyists than there are members of Congress. In case that was not enough to get your attention, drug manufacturers have spent millions of dollars sponsoring both parties' conventions in hopes to quell new initiatives that might mean a hit to their profits -- profits that are four to five times greater than the Fortune 500 average. The Rx Express will provide an equal opportunity for you to hear from real people about how skyrocketing prescription drug prices are bankrupting the health care system."

Bulk purchasing policies should not be limited to the Medicare program but opened to all seeking more affordable prescription drugs, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "Bulk purchasing of prescription drugs is a market-savvy strategy to help control costs. The more people in the purchasing pool, the better the discounts," said Jerry Flanagan of the FTCR.