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Consumer Stories


East Coast Rx Express -- Gene & Betty Greenspan -- Miami, Florida
The Greenspans are taking half a dozen medications between them at a cost of roughly $3,000 a year. "We feel very strongly," Gene says, "that there should be no prohibition against the re-importation of drugs at that the U.S. should negotiate bulk discounts on behalf of all patients like other countries already do."

East Coast Rx Express -- David Mathis -- Ocoee, Florida
David enrolled in the new Medicare drug discount card program but saves less than 10 percent on his medications. He hopes to save 40 percent of the cost on those when he takes the Rx express to Toronto. David believes there are specific steps the government can take, like instituting bulk purchasing. "If they can do bulk purchasing for the Veterans Administration, they can do it for all Americans," David says.

East Coast Rx Express -- Virginia Neill -- Bradenton Beach, Florida
Virginia doesn't understand why this country treats good citizens who work hard when they seek relief for their medical ailments. "I raised two children. I had a 30-year career," Virginia says. Why, in the face of that, is she in danger of losing my home? she asks.

East Coast Rx Express -- Ann Streaker -- Lakeland, Florida
Ann Streaker is a 32 year-old, single mom living in Florida. Her child has medical coverage through the state's Kid Care program, but Ann has had no medical insurance for herself for years. A contract employee and student, she simply can't afford it.

East Coast Rx Express -- Sheila Franklin -- Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Sheila describes herself as "a good capitalist." For 30 years, she was an entrepreneur, running an executive search firm, importing jewelry, publishing. She was healthy, but nonetheless had insurance. A few years ago, as the premiums continued to rise, she opted for a different plan that, she was told, would cost her $373 a month, with no prescription drug coverage. Within months, that had risen to $1,111 a month.

East Coast Rx Express -- Catherine Mulholland -- Largo, Florida
"Prescription drugs have only been a big factor since I was 60," Catherine says. Now 75, she says "I haven't totally fallen apart yet." Nonetheless, she does need medications for heart, cholesterol and thyroid, to the tune of $500 to $600 a month; between $6,000 and $7,200 a year.

East Coast Rx Express -- Nellie & David McGowan -- Savannah, Georgia
Nellie has done some comparison shopping between Canadian prices and the U.S. government's much-touted Medicare card, which takes effect in 2006 and which the Bush administration says makes drugs more available to seniors. For the cholesterol drug alone, "it is three times as cheap in Canada," she says

East Coast Rx Express -- Joyce and Joe Shannon -- Raleigh, North Carolina
Like many seniors, the Shannons, who have lived for 30 years in Raleigh, N.C., are struggling to get by in their so-called golden years. Joyce takes roughly a dozen medications at a yearly cost of between $1,000 and $1,500. "I don't think Americans should have to go to Canada to buy their prescriptions," Joe says. "There should be a better way."

East Coast Rx Express -- Shirley McClain -- Fayetteville, North Carolina
Shirley is a former school teacher who raised three children. After living in Michigan for several years, she returned to North Carolina in 1979. As executive director of a non-profit, the North Carolina Hunger Network, Shirley now has her own problems affording health care coverage. She has, for example, no prescription drug coverage, and is at 59 is not old enough for Medicare. She has been diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure and is paying $1,200 a year for medications to treat them.

East Coast Rx Express -- Marion Hicks & June Marie Preston -- Douglasville, Pennsylvania
Marion Hicks was for many years a hospital chaplain in Atlanta, Ga., working the night shift. Two years ago, she left to join her sister, June Preston, in Douglasville, PA. June had been an office manager. The sisters are getting by in retirement, except when it comes to health care. "If we didn't have to have all these expensive medicines, we'd do fine," Marion says.

East Coast Rx Express -- Mildred & Leonard Fruhling -- Edison, New Jersey
The Fruhlings, who both are 76, live in Edison, N.J., and have been in the Garden State for 30 years. Leonard worked in Manhattan's garment district. Mildred, an independent contractor, did not have prescription drug coverage, but Leonard did, through his AFL-CIO union, even after retirement. As costs increased, however, and coverage began to seep away.

East Coast Rx Express -- Julia Morrison -- NY, NY
As to the Bush Administration's so-called "reform" through its Medicare card, Julia says, "we're facing a disaster" (when it takes effect) in January of 2006." The discount cards don't cover the increase in prices charged by the pharmaceutical companies, so "we're already behind," she says. "People are going to end up paying a lot more."

East Coast Rx Express -- Sandra & Felix Fraustro -- Orlando, Florida
For the Fraustro's, the trouble began on Oct. 1, 2003, when Felix was layed off by his longtime employer. The Fraustros went on Cobra, but had to fight to keep it. Now they haealth coverage from an HMO, Humana, buy have prescription drug coverage. That lack of coverage would be bad enough, but it is compounded by Sandra's many ailments. Sandra, 62, a former construction secretary, takes 23 prescription drugs a month, for everything from asthma to connective tissue disease to gastrointestinal problems to Reynaud's syndrome.

Rx Express -- Sharon & Barry Fowler -- San Diego, CA
Sharon lost her business because of last winter's six-month-long Ralphs strike, which was all about health care costs. Even before she went under, she was unable to offer insurance to her employees, though they worked hard and deserved it. In her own life she and her husband have been knocked back on their heels by the high costs of health care.

Rx Express -- Tom & Sophia Garbin -- Garden Grove, CA
Tom Garbin hopes to get a prescription drug in Canada at a lower price than he would pay in California. In his case, it's Neurontin, which helps alleviate pain from a hereditary foot disease. But Tom has another reason for going: He wants to use the bully pulpit the train provides to argue that the American health care system needs massive reform.

Rx Express -- Patricia & Dave Parker -- Anaheim, CA
Pat and Dave Parker know plenty about the unreasonable cost of prescription drugs. That hard-to-meet expense, along with other abuses of the health care system, has dogged them for years now. Their Blue Cross premiums and drug co-pays increased this year alone by 80 percent.

Rx Express -- Carole Jaquez -- Apple Valley, CA
Carole, now 78, and on a fixed income, simply can't afford to pay the costs of the medications she needs. She says she'd give up eating first. The horrific thing is that she or anyone else would be squeezed into that choice.

Rx Express -- Stephy & Carl Barstow -- Sherman Oaks, CA
Stephy and Carl Barstow have become experts at making a little money go a long way. But even with their frugality, this senior couple from Sherman Oaks has to struggle to make ends meet: One of the chief reasons is the cost of prescription medications. The Barstows spend thousands of dollars a year on them

Rx Express -- Carla Coco Boutte -- Santa Barbara, CA
As a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara, UCSB, Carla, 51, has some coverage. But it caps at $2,000. She has a slew of health problems, and passed the $2,000 mark halfway through the academic year. Now she has to pay out-of-pocket. Until the plan kicks in again in September, Carla has to pay full price for such medications as Lipitor, Paxil and half a dozen others

Rx Express -- Dr. Paul & Ginette Smith -- Orange County, CA
Dr. Paul Smith has seen the health care delivery system from the points of view of a physician, a patient and a scholar. He also knows how health care works on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, and he is tired of hearing the Canadian side being maligned by voices in the U.S.

Rx Express -- Barbara Turner -- Lafayette, CA
Barbara takes two such medications, for C.O.P.D. - Compromised Oxygen Pulmonary Disease, which is similar to emphysema. She spends $120 a month for one of them, screzen diskus, and $98 for another Flovent. So Barbara, a senior citizen, is paying $218 of her scant income just for these medications, which she must have.

Rx Express -- Terelle Terry -- Sacramento, CA
Terelle, 70, has fought for change all her life. She sees health care reform as one of the major issues facing Californians. She is only too happy to be riding the rails to Canada on a mission that eventually will smash through the wall of greed and corruption that barricades Californians from receiving the health care they need and deserve.

Rx Express -- Sonja & Bill Clarke -- Placerville, CA
Sonja Clarke describes herself and her husband Bill as \"old school.\" They worked hard, raised a family, and lived life according to the rules. They budgeted and saved, and planned things out very carefully.They never expected that, as they entered their golden years, they would have to sell their home in order to pay for health care

Rx Express -- Jean Scott -- Portland, OR
Part of Jean's fiscal dilemma lies in the cost of prescription drugs. She spends $600 a year out-of-pocket, and another $2,200, deducted from PERS and Social Security checks, to buy into a medical plan that includes drugs. She has gone without a medication her physician considers necessary, and is trying to wean herself from Trazodone at this time.

Rx Express -- Frances Grippen -- Portland, OR
Franny Grippen is not trying to make a statement about health care in general by climbing aboard the RX express. She just wants to save a little bit of money on four prescription drugs that simply cost too much in the United States.

Leigh Williford, WellPoint/Anthem merger, Simi Valley, California
"If Anthem is proposing a $16.4 billion bid for Blue Cross and Leonard Schaeffer is retiring with a $82.3 million plus stock options severance package, after getting $11 million last year in bonuses, then why can't I get quality medical care?" Leigh asks.

Ceci Ellis, $709 monthly premium, Redwood City, California
Ceci, like a growing number of Californians, wants the government to step in and regulate costs, and provide uniform standards. There needs to be some sort of balance, she says. "Maybe the insurance companies need to make a little less."

Kathryn Thuma, 150% premium increase, Fremont, California
Kathryn's monthly premiums jumped from $300 to $490. Most of her co-pays doubled. In-patient hospitalization shot up from $200 per admission to $200 per day.

Kim and Kerry Olson, San Leandro, California
"What is amazing is how (Kim) didn't have a heart attack with all the problems of how are we going to pay for all of that and then having to cancel his health plan. So here we are, trying to stay alive and trying to not go ballistic. If I didn't have this job as an apartment manager we'd be out on the street. "

Richard Rowell, retired, Fremont, California
Since he retired two years ago, Kaiser has steadily boosted the premium that Rowell, 64, and his wife pay. It has gone from $360 a month to $648 and now, beginning in January 2004, the monthly premium is $955. That comes to $11,460 a year.

Ritva Curley, pre-existing condition, Ventura, California
She knows she is not alone. "I have several friends who can't get insurance. One has a heart condition, and he's not insured. If something happens to him he'll have to sell his home."

Dr. Doug Roberts, solo practice, Sacramento, California
"The technology has allowed me to go back" to the days when doctors focused on patients and not paperwork and bureaucracy. "I take an hour with each new patient, half an hour with everyone else." Roberts estimates that he has reduced overhead by as much as 70 percent.

Tom Garbin, self-employed, Garden Grove, California
"They're criminals in what they're doing." Tom says. "They're denying me left, right and center." As to the increasingly unaffordable price increases, Tom is convinced that "this conglomerate has made up its mind to dump me."

Peggy McPhee, self-insured, Santa Rosa, California
She doesn't know where she can cut back this time. She dumped her cell phone last year, and endured the winter without turning on the heater. "I bit the bullet," Peggy says. "But now, it's just out of reach. I can't afford this now. I don't know where the $190 is going to come from."

Alex Rose, Santa Barbara, California
Alex Rose is exasperated by the continuing rise in health care costs, increases that threaten to take away his health insurance. But Alex also is disgusted by the larger picture: a United States health care system that is inefficient, uncaring and so confusing to health care consumers that they figure out how to navigate it only with great difficulty, and sometimes not all at all.

Jo Christie, Cupertino, California
Jo, 58, is a San Francisco native who lives in Cupertino and is self-employed. Her husband, whom she divorced six years ago, had their family covered through Kaiser as a Lockheed employee. They raised three children in Woodside. The Lockheed coverage ended six years ago, and Jo went on COBRA for three years. Then began the upward spiral.

Jonas Weisel, Santa Rosa, California
This is his latest notice from Kaiser, which came in the mail in early December. The health care insurer raised his rates from $564 to $955 - a jump of 69 percent.

Kathryn Thuma, 150% premium increase, Fremont, California
Kathryn's monthly premiums jumped from $300 to $490. Most of her co-pays doubled. In-patient hospitalization shot up from $200 per admission to $200 per day.

Dana Morrison, Magalia, California
"Unless it's equitable, there's not going to be a benefit to workers, employers or anyone else in the end. If workers get hurt and can't get the care they need and deserve, then that's one less employee, a decrease in productivity, and a decrease in profits. It's a vicious circle."

Sharon Fowler, San Diego, California
There is a new $200 a day hospital fee, up from zero last year. There is a $250 deductible on brand name drugs, also a new charge. Cat scans and MRIs, which had been free, are $50.

Dorothy Miller, Pittsburgh, California
"I'm betting my life every day for three years."

Susan Walker, Granada Hills, California
Susan's premium will shoot from $319 to $493. Worse, in her eyes, is the jump in hospital stay to $200 a day. It had been free.

Gail Saivar, San Diego, California
Gail's monthly premium shot from $295 to $493. Her hospitalization costs went from nothing to $200 a day, and her co-pay increased. "I was stunned," she says. "Shocked. I thought, this has to be a mistake."

Michael Fry, Poway, San Diego County
Michael Fry's Kaiser monthly health premium will increase 73 percent, to $961, beginning January, 2004. The increase is $406 and means he and his wife will have to pay $11,532 next year.

The Pastoria Family, Studio City, California
The government needs to provide oversight, Jon Pastoria says. It should limit the number and percentage of increases. It should crack down on bait and switch tactics. "Individual policyholders have no leverage; we need all the help we can get."

Laurel Kaufer, San Fernando Valley, California
Because of relentless rate increases, Laurel has to measure each proposed trip to the doctor very carefully against her other household expenses, and no longer takes her children to the doctor with every illness.

Don Lapin, San Francisco, California
Don says the health care system, unregulated, is running wild. "Blue Shield is supposed to be non-profit, but its managers act like they're with Exxon."

Jon Marcus, San Francisco, California
Insurers, Marcus says, have "abused the system." They have "too much power, outrageous rights, they can deny you coverage for almost any reason, they can raise rates for any reason, and they can even find reasons to drop you.

Art Letter, San Diego, California
A self-insured consultant, Art, now 60, has been covered for 10 years by Blue Cross. This year his premiums went up 40%.

Jodi Greggs, Sacramento, California
As bad as the workers comp delivery system is now, if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has his way it will grow far worse, depriving Jodi and tens of thousands of other suffering Californians of relief.

Murray Axelrod, Los Angeles, California
Murray, 64, is a retired grocery clerk. On Christmas Eve, Kaiser dumped a large lump of coal in Murray's stocking: They told him that he would be paying $421 a month, beginning in January.

Laura Moe, Marin, California
In the mid-1990s Laura and her husband divorced. She went on Cobra coverage for two years, but that ended and she sought health insurance for the self-employed. The least expensive option she could find would have cost her $320 a month.

Penny Ericson (an alias), Los Angeles, California
Penny's anxiety results mainly from fear of her future brought about by rising health costs and uncertainty about what is coming next. "I never know from day to day what they're going to do." Most of all, Penny says, "I want to see some fairness."

The Brown Family, Belmont, California
Health insurers have to be regulated Brad says. "You can't trust private industry to regulate itself. You can't give Enron the keys to the building and say, 'don't steal anything.'"

Bob Cuddy, Livermore, California
Imagine my surprise when I received a letter in December telling me my premium would go up to $345 a month on January 1, 2003 - a 44 percent increase.

Pat & Dave Parker, Orange County, California
Pat didn't realize when this particular bill plopped into her mailbox in early April was that it had raised her health care premium by 38 percent - from $673 to $941. The increase was due to take place May 1.

Pat Pawlack, North Hollwood, California
There is a lot wrong with the medical system in California these days - skyrocketing premiums, a lesser level of care, lack of accountability.

Kathy Locke, Novato, California
Kathy understands that the health insurance crisis is damaging all kinds of people. She has no answers as to what to do about it under the current rules and regime. "I think there should be universal health care."