The 2004 presidential election provided a moment of clarity for many Americans about the high cost of prescription drugs.
The issue infected the presidential debate between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry. So our consumer group chartered two private trains—dubbed the Rx Express—to take seniors to Canada to buy cheaper drugs, right in the middle of the presidential debates.
Consumer Watchdog’s Jerry Flanagan wanted to show how Americans pay about 60 percent more for prescription drugs than the people of other nations. The next president would then have to lower prescription drug costs.
One train went up the West Coast, another up the East Coast, picking up seniors along the way while we held whistle-stop press conferences in their communities.
The East Coast train began in Florida and stopped for passengers and press conferences all the way to Toronto. The West Coast train did the same from San Diego to Vancouver. In Canada, the Rx Express riders saved an average of 60 percent off the prescription drug prices they paid in the United States for a total annual savings of $2,000 each.
The seniors’ journeys made a big impression, in the media and with the presidential candidates.
The Rx Express train trips generated more than three hundred television appearances, with a Nielsen audience of sixty-five million, sixty newspaper articles, and one hundred radio interviews.
The provision of prescription drug benefits to seniors became a central issue in the election and ultimately translated to an expansion of Medicare, albeit a faulty one that must be corrected at the right moment.
We had one amazing windfall of luck during the trip when the Bush administration tried to intimidate our seniors. Government officials boarded the eastern-seaboard train at its last stop before the Canadian border looking for drugs. On the night of a presidential debate no less. Of course, that mistake only gave Jerry and his crew of seniors another round of media stories.
The only error we made was not asking then senator Barack Obama to come along. Had we, he may not have been able to retreat in 2009 from his campaign pledge to reduce the nation’s prescription drug bill through bulk purchasing.
Riding the Rails: Aboard the Rx Express
Excerpted from The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell: How To Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws And Get The Change We Voted For (Chelsea Green).