Until last year, Felix and Sandra Fraustro's health care was well taken care of. Felix had a long career in computer programming, and his employer covered both him and Sandra, as well as their children, who are now adults.
The trouble began on Oct. 1, 2003, when McKesson laid off Felix. The Fraustros went on Cobra, but had to fight with McKesson to keep it. Now they receive health coverage from an HMO, Humana, but are under a plan which lacks 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. She is on disability, and Medicare takes care of some of the costs, but she is out of pocket $1,004 a month. Felix takes medications for hypertension as well as anxiety and depression; those cost him $120 a month. So the Fraustros are paying some $13,400 a year for prescription drugs alone.
Maybe Bill Gates could handle that, but the average American family can't, especially folks in their 60s who have retired.
To make ends meet, the Fraustros are doing what many people in their situation are having to do: drawing down their retirement funds to pay for health care. That's at the expense of other plans they had made for their golden years.
As tough a time as the Fraustros are having with health care, they sympathize with others who are in even more dire situations. "There are people who have accumulated savings and they're hurting even worse than we are," says Felix.
Felix and Sandra are on the Rx Express in hopes of saving some money on their medications when they arrive in Toronto. But, like the others on the train, they want to spread the message that health care in the U.S., especially when it comes to prescription drugs, is not doing the job for seniors.
They suggest several ways in which the government could do better, including bulk purchasing of prescription drugs, which Felix calls "definitely the way to go." Additionally, Felix says, "If I had my way, I would want the government to create a program where we could purchase prescription drugs at a good discount - 40 to 60 percent off."
"There is nobody to negotiate on our behalf," Felix says. "It's a major problem."