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Miami Herald

Seniors find discounts on Rx Express

October 10, 2004

In a trip that is more of a political statement than a shopping excursion, Gene and Betty Greenspan of Kendall plan to climb aboard a train at 7 a.m. Monday that will take them to Canada to buy drugs at prices far cheaper than they can get here.

In Fort Lauderdale, they will be joined by Sheila Franklin, an ''over-50'' entrepreneur who retired with huge savings but now finds it virtually impossible to get health insurance. ''It's disgusting how high drug prices are,'' she says.

They are boarding the Rx Express, two private cars attached to a regularly scheduled Amtrak Silver Meteor 98 train that will wind its way up the East Coast, with stops along the way to pick up more drug-buyers.

The project is organized by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, and paid for by various nonprofits, led by the Civil Society Institute in Boston.

Cost: About $30,000, says Flanagan of the foundation. That could buy quite a bit of Lipitor, but the groups are looking to send a message. ''We want to make the statement that we shouldn't have to go all the way to Canada to buy cheaper drugs,'' says Flanagan.

The foundation wants the federal government to insist that the drug manufacturers provide bulk rates for Medicare recipients, the same way the Veterans Administration forces large discounts for its patients.

''Neither candidate has endorsed such a program,'' Flanagan says.

The pharmaceutical industry is adamantly opposed to the train's purpose. ''This is an election-year stunt that does nothing to help lower prescription drug costs,'' says Phil Blando of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association.

With Canada thousands of miles away, most South Florida seniors order from Canada via telephone or Internet.

Gene Greenspan, 78, phones his orders to a Canadian pharmacy and averages 20 to 25 percent savings, he says, for such drugs as Zocor for cholesterol. ``We feel very strongly these drugs should be available for U.S. citizens.''

Greenspan is a well-known AARP volunteer in South Florida, and after he talked to The Herald, a spokesman for Florida AARP, Jeff Johnson, called The Herald to make clear his organization's position on the train.

''We are not supporting this effort,'' he said. Ordering from drugs from Canada is technically against the law, and though the feds say they don't plan to jail any seniors over this, ``AARP doesn't advocate any kind of civil disobedience. We will tell them to pressure Congress to change the law.''