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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

CTV News Canada
Oct 14, 2004

by Staff Reporters

Presidential Debate on Prescription Drug Prices Isn't Stopping the RxExpress

A presidential debate on the issue of Canadian prescription prices isn't stopping a trainload of Americans from crossing the border for lower-cost drugs.

More than two dozen seniors and patients arrived in Toronto Wednesday night aboard a chartered train that picked up passengers from across the U.S. as it made its way north from Miami, Florida.

Carole Jacquez travelled all the way from Apple Valley, California, to buy medication for her blood pressure, acid reflux and asthma.

"Back home, I pay $120 for 30 pills, and here it's running $56," she told CTV's Canada AM Thursday.

Jacquez is just one of the "Rx Express" passengers who intend to buy their drugs from an unnamed pharmacy, then blend in with other travellers when they take flights home.

The train trip isn't a return journey because it is illegal for Americans to reimport more than a three-month supply of Canadian drugs into the United States.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cites drug safety as its primary concern, but group organizer Jerry Flanagan thinks other factors are at play.

Rather than enter into a bulk-buying deal similar to the one Ottawa has arranged with drug makers, Flanagan says, "pharmaceutical companies would rather charge whatever high price they like."

Aside from getting a bargain on this trip, he says the "Rx Train" -- backed by the non-partisan lobbying group Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights -- has one clear goal: "To make a political statement about the status of health care and prescription drug access in the United States," he told Canada AM.

The hoped-for effect, he added, would be the importation of some Canadian drug policies.

Rx Debate

As presidential candidates John Kerry and George W. Bush waged their final televised debate on Wednesday night, the issue was cause for heated argument.

"The reason health-care costs are getting higher, one of the principal reasons, is that this administration has stood in the way of common-sense efforts that would have reduced the costs,'' Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said, blasting President Bush for a health-care system that doesn't afford some 45 million Americans coverage.

"Let me give you a prime example ... the president blocked you from the right to have less expensive drugs from Canada.''

Bush didn't respond directly to the attack, like he did in the second debate last week.

"When a drug comes in from Canada, I want to make sure it cures you and doesn't kill you,'' Bush said during the second debate. "My worry is that it looks like it is from Canada; it might be from a Third World.''

However, while Bush opposes importing prescription drugs from Canada on safety grounds, he said he's hoping his northern neighbor will help overcome a severe shortage of flu vaccine this year.

The Vancouver drug company ID Biomedical confirmed Tuesday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is hoping to purchase an estimated 1.5 million extra doses of the flu vaccine from the company.

Earlier this year, Bush passed a bill prohibiting the U.S. government from negotiating bulk discounts with pharmaceutical companies.

Kerry has pledged to negotiate bulk discounts on behalf of Americans over the age of 65.

Americans have been buying cheaper drugs in Canada for years. But earlier this year the FDA raised the alarm over Canadian Internet pharmacies selling drugs online to customers south of the border.

To provide some relief, the Bush administration has offered Americans a new drug discount card.

Bush has also appointed a task force led by the U.S. Surgeon General to study drug imports, but it's not expected to issue its report until after Americans go to the polls on Nov. 2.


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