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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

Senior Journal
Sep 22, 2004

by Staff Writers

RxExpress Now Heads Up East Coast Taking Seniors to Buy Canadian Drugs

The RxExpress is about to make another drug run to Canada. This time they will pick up pre-selected senior citizens along the East Coast to take them across the northern U.S. border to buy prescription drugs at prices much lower than those available in their own country.

The train will leave from Miami on Oct. 11 and then pickup passengers and hold news conferences in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. The destination for the drug purchases is Toronto, Canada, where they will arrive on Oct. 13. They will fly home the next day.

This trip, like a similar excursion up the West Coast, is sponsored by The Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights (FTCR) - a nationally-recognized, California-based, non-profit education and advocacy organization. Click here to read articles from British Columbia - 8/26/04.

FTCR is providing the train, accommodations, return airfare, and most meals at no charge to the riders selected. In Toronto, the seniors will be seen by a doctor and issued a Canadian prescription. Participants will be charged a nominal fee in Canada for the doctor's services and will be taken to a Canadian drug store to fill a three-month supply of each prescription for which the patient will be charged.

"Please help us recruit for the Rx Express!" wrote organizer Jerry Flanagan in a message to supporters. "We are looking for seniors and patients with significant out-of-pocket expenses for their prescription drugs to join us," he wrote. He says the passengers will be seniors enrolled in the Medicare prescription drug discount card program who still cannot afford their medications.

"The goal of the trip is to demonstrate the tremendous disparity between prices of prescription drugs in Canada and what we pay here in the U.S. as well as to highlight the need for a national drug bulk-purchasing program and other policies to provide access to lower cost prescriptions," according to Flanagan. "Prescription drugs are available in Canada, England, Ireland and other countries at 30-60% less than in the United States because those countries negotiate rates on behalf of all patients -- a move that drug companies have blocked in the U.S."

As was done on the West Coast trip, Flanagan is inviting the media, as well as President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry to join the trip.

In the letter sent today to Bush and Kerry, Flanagan wrote:

"As many Rx Express riders will tell you, 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."

Flanagan pointed out that a new national survey - available at http://www.ResultsforAmerica.org - found that among Americans with health care insurance who purchase prescription drugs:

-- One-third (34 percent) are either already purchasing or planning to purchase lower costs prescriptions from pharmacies in Canada or other nations.

-- Nearly two in ten (18 percent) say they either skip medications or reduce dosages to "stretch" their medication due to high costs. This percentage equates to over 20 million Americans.

-- Eight of ten (83 percent) say that the U.S. should follow the lead of other nations and negotiate bulk discounts on prescription drugs.

In the letter sent today he wrote:

"Prescription drugs are available in Canada, England and Ireland at 30-60 percent less than in the United States because those countries control drug prices by negotiating rates on behalf of all patients - a move that drug companies have blocked in the U.S. This limitation is particularly absurd given that the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has used a similar strategy to save veterans more than 50 percent off the list price of prescription drugs."

Flanagan maintains that "under pressure from the pharmaceutical industry," President Bush opposed bulk purchasing in the 2003 Medicare prescription drug law which banned the Medicare program from negotiating discounts with pharmaceutical companies. While Senator Kerry has supported changes to the Medicare drug law to allow bulk discounting, neither candidate has supported a program that would allow any American to participate regardless of age.

According to federal filings, as of August 2 President Bush had received $871,824 in campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies and Senator Kerry had received $349,312, according to Flanagan.

Flanagan described the Rx Express passengers already selected.

-- Gene and Betty Greenspan have lived in Miami, Florida for over 30 years. Gene was the director of a non-profit Jewish social services organization which offered full health care benefits for he and his wife, Betty, while he was working but does not provide health care retirement benefits. Now, though Gene and Betty have supplemental health insurance with their Medicare coverage, they must pay for all their prescription costs out-of-pocket. The Greenspan's have looked into the Medicare drug discount card but could not find a program that would guarantee that their prescriptions would be available when they need them.

-- Ann Streacker of Winterhaven, Florida is a single mom working for a state agency but because she was hired on a contract basis, she does not have any health care coverage for herself or her child. For Ann, 32, diagnosed this year with a long-term medical condition, the financial strain of being uninsured has forced her to buy her prescription drugs from Canada. She's worried about what will happen if shipments from Canada are blocked and would like to see U.S. policies that will provide a sustainable supply of lower cost prescription drugs.

-- Joe and Joyce Shannon of Raleigh, North Carolina had prescription drug coverage for their dozen or so medications through Joe's part-time employer, a local pharmacy. That is until Joe, now in his 70s, fell and broke his hip. Following the accident, Joe went on COBRA to continue his coverage but that became too expensive on the Shannon's limited income. Now Joe and Joyce are facing a $900/month prescription drug bill and are running out of options. Joyce has limited coverage for generic drugs through supplemental insurance but it does not provide any help for the brand name drugs she needs to treat her osteoporosis.

-- Mildred and Leonard Fruhling of Edison, New Jersey watched both of their grown children complete engineering degrees at Rutgers University. Mildred, who spent 25 years in health insurance sales, became active in the Medicare and prescription drug debate when she retired, but did not expect the issue to hit so close to home: three years ago her husband's employer terminated their prescription drug retirement coverage when cost increases became too great.

Those interested in joining the trip should contact David Fink at (310) 392-0522 ext. 320 (david@consumerwatchdog.org) or Laura Antonini at (310) 392-0522 ext. 306 (laura@consumerwatchdog.org). More information is available at www.RxExpressCanada.org
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Jerry Flanagan is FTCR's lead advocate on healthcare reform and personal privacy issues and is recognized as one of California's leading analysts of legislative efforts to address those issues. He is responsible for overseeing the California Health Consensus Project's (a href="http://www.calhealthconsensus.org">www.calhealthconsensus.org) development and implementation.

Flanagan has recently organized a series of televised town halls throughout California, including one produced for PBS. He has also devoted significant time to research and advocacy on the issues of energy deregulation, clean water and campaign finance reform. Prior to joining FTCR, Flanagan worked for 7 years with the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) in New Jersey and California. With PIRG, Flanagan wrote and won passage of one of the nation's strongest HMO accountability measures, which was signed into law in New Jersey on July 30, 2001.

Recently, Flanagan wrote a report, "A Cure for Rising Health Care Costs - Prescription Drug Buying Pools", that outlines a plan to eliminate inefficiencies in the state's procurement of prescription drugs with the effect of saving hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Flanagan received a BA in Social/Cultural Anthropology and in Rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley.


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