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The New York Sun


by JILL GARDINER, Staff Reporter
Oct 12, 2004

As patients in the five boroughs grow increasingly frustrated with having to dip into their savings for medications to keep cholesterol and blood pressure down, some are attempting to change what they consider a broken health-care system.

Early this morning a train carrying nearly two dozen passengers on a special mission is expected at Penn Station, where it will pick up three New Yorkers en route to Toronto. The "Rx Express," as it has been dubbed, will return carrying a collection of prescription drugs for passengers to stock in their medicine cabinets - at a fraction of what they cost in America.

The health-care policy director for The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, the organization sponsoring the train ride, said the mission was twofold.

"We want to give the passengers an opportunity to make purchases at a cheaper prices, but we are also making a political statement," Jerry Flanagan told The New York Sun. "We shouldn't have to do this, but this is what needs to be done."

Mr. Flanagan said the train trip, which started in Miami yesterday, was designed to bring attention to the practice of bulk drug purchasing in Canada, which he says translates into discounts of 30% to 60%.

Julia Morrison, a freelance writer who lives on the Upper West Side, will be one of the passengers on the train. Ms. Morrison, who gave her age as "over 60," said she spends roughly $200 a month at the CVS Pharmacy on Amsterdam Avenue and 86th Street on osteoporosis and eye medications.

Though she has not needed to make serious sacrifices, she has reined in her daily expenditures so that she can afford her medications.

"I don't go to the theater, I don't go to the Metropolitan Opera. I keep a quality of life, but I do cut back," said Ms. Morrison, who made a similar trip to Montreal over the summer. "I don't cut back on food, but I do feel it."

Just a few hours after Ms. Morrison leaves on the train today, the City Council's committee on technology in government will take on the drug issue on a local level.

The committee will consider a proposal to create a city-run Web site that provides prices for 150 of the most popular prescription drugs at every pharmacy in the five boroughs.

"The stories of people going up to Canada to buy prescription drugs are becoming almost common place," said Council Member Eric Gioia, the lead sponsor on the bill. "There are stories of people making choices they should never have to make between prescription medication and rent, or prescription medication and dinner."

The bill was born out of results from an investigation the council released in February showing that price disparities as high as 60% for the same drugs exist between pharmacies in the city.

The state's Drug Retail Price List Law requires pharmacies to update prices on those drugs. But the proposed site, Mr. Gioia predicts, will drive down drug prices citywide. It will be the first city-sponsored site of its kind in the country, he said.

"Within a short period of time, by just shining the light on it you'll actually drive down prices and keep them in check across the entire city," he said. "Because, quite obviously, the only reason why you can charge what you charge is that people don't know you can find it cheaper somewhere else. This will be like Adam Smith's invisible hand."

Mayor Bloomberg's press secretary declined to comment on the proposed Web site. The mayor has said he supports allowing drug imports from Canada.

Several public interest groups are expected to testify in support of the Web site today, but the city's pharmacists' society is expected to voice opposition. The committee is expected to vote next month.