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Hillsdale Independent

Rx Express

October 12, 2004

RENSSELAER -- Advocating reduced prices for prescription drugs, 25 seniors and other patients from Florida to New York will take the Rx Express to Canada this week to buy lower cost medications.

"Prescription drugs are available in Canada at 30% to 60% discounts because Canadians buy in bulk, a system pharmaceutical companies have blocked in the U.S.," Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights told The Independent.

"One of the messages we want to get out is that seniors and other patients should not have to travel to Canada to get the affordable prescriptions they need. A U.S. bulk purchasing pool that negotiates big discounts from drug makers should be open to all Americans regardless of their age. The money saved would allow 44 million Americans, 80% of whom work but are uninsured, access to health care."

The Rx Express, a chartered Amtrak train, left Miami for Toronto Monday, and will reach Canada tomorrow, picking up passengers along the way while stopping in dozens of cities and towns along the East Coast.

The train arrived today at the Rensselaer Amtrak station. Representatives from the foundation, which is footing the bill for travel expenses, seniors, patients, consumer activists, New York Citizen Action and the New York Public Interest Research Group, were on hand to discuss the reasons for the trip.

On a recent West Coast Rx Express jaunt, passengers saved 60% off the drug prices they pay in the U.S. for a total annual savings of $2,000 each, according to Mr. Flanagan.

"We've had short bus trips to Canada before, but the chartered trains hit so many more states where we can get the message out," said Mr. Flanagan, who noted another purpose of the trip is to show that such jaunts are not logistically feasible.

"People in landlocked states don't have this type of chance," he said.

Mr. Flanagan said the foundation spent weeks picking people for the trip, including Ann Streacker, a 32-year-old single mother from Florida.

"Her child has medical coverage through the state's Kids Care program, but Ms. Streacker has had no medical insurance for herself for years because as a contract employee and student, she simply couldn't afford it," said Mr. Flanagan. He said Ms. Streacker was diagnosed this year with a long-term medical condition.

Catherine Mulholland, of Largo Florida, is 75 and needs medications for heart, cholesterol and thyroid to the tune of $500 to $600 a month, or between $6,000 and $7,200 a year," he said. "There are so many others, all with different stories, but with one thing in common: They can't afford the costs of medication here."

Both President George W. Bush and Domocratic presidential nominee Senator John Kerry were invited to join the train trip to hear from Medicare enrollees and other patients about the need for a national prescription drug bulk-purchasing program.

Mr. Bush sent a letter to the foundation indicating he would not be able to make the trip, but no word was received from Mr. Kerry, according to Mr. Flanigan.

"Neither candidate had pledged to enact such a program that would allow all Americans access to lower cost drugs," Mr. Flanigan said. "As many Rx Express riders say, the Medicare prescription drug law is inadequate and deeply flawed. Many seniors have ignored the new discount drug card program because either their medicines are not available, the discounts are not what were promised, or because the program is too complex. Other patients too young for Medicare cannot afford basic health coverage because prescription drug increases are making health care unaffordable."

The Rx Express includes 25 seniors and patients from Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Some of the seniors participating are enrolled in the Medicare prescription drug discount card program but still cannot afford their medications.

"Prescription drug expenditures, along with health insurer overhad costs, have consistently been the fastest growing component of health care spending," said Mr. Flanagan. "Over the last decade prescription drug costs have increased at double-digit rates each year. As a result, consumers, whether insured or uninsured, are facing skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for their prescription drugs. Employers offering drug coverage to workers or retirees have been forced to increase co-payments and deductibles. For the first time in a decade, average working families cannot afford adequate health care.