Train Trip With Patients to Highlight Need for Rx Bulk Purchasing
In a letter sent today, a consumer group invited President Bush and Democratic nominee Senator Kerry to join a train trip to Canada to hear from Medicare enrollees and other patients who will be crossing the border to buy their prescription drugs at a third of the price. Prescription drugs are available in Canada at 30-60% discounts because Canadians buy in bulk, a move that pharmaceutical companies have thus far blocked in the U.S.
Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times profiled one Rx Express rider in a column today — Carole Jacquez — a senior whose inability to afford medications has forced her to travel across the border. The Rx Express will include seniors, like Carole, who cannot get access to the drugs they need under the new Medicare discount card program.
In the letter to Bush and Kerry (see below) the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) — a nonpartisan and non-profit consumer advocacy group — wrote:
“You will never have a problem affording the prescription drugs you need to stay healthy. However, 1 out of 4 seniors must choose between buying their medications and paying for other staples like food and rent… You have both pledged to make health care — and specifically access to lower cost medications — a top priority if you are elected president in November. We invite both of you to join us on board the Rx Express to hear from seniors and other patients about how prescription drug bulk purchasing can lower drug costs for all Americans.”
For the week prior to the Republican National Convention — August 23rd to August 26th — the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) will charter a train to take seniors, insured and uninsured patients, and small business owners from San Diego, California to Vancouver, Canada. The Rx Express will stop in dozens of towns in California, Oregon and Washington and pick up patients along the way.
In the letter sent today, FTCR cited heavy lobbying by pharmaceutical companies opposing prescription drug reform as one reason that Bush and Kerry should ride the Rx Express:
“We know you have heard from the pharmaceutical companies because they employ more lobbyists than there are members of Congress. In case that was not enough to get your attention, drug manufacturers have spent millions of dollars sponsoring both parties’ conventions in hopes to quell new initiatives that might mean a hit to their profits — profits that are four to five times greater than the Fortune 500 average. The Rx Express will provide an equal opportunity for you to hear from real people about how skyrocketing prescription drug prices are bankrupting the health care system.”
Bulk purchasing policies should not be limited to the Medicare program but opened to all seeking more affordable prescription drugs, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “Bulk purchasing of prescription drugs is a market-savvy strategy to help control costs. The more people in the purchasing pool, the better the discounts,” said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR)
California Assembly Bill 1958 (Frommer, Los Angeles), will allow any uninsured patient — regardless of age — and small business owners to participate in a bulk purchasing program run by the nation’s second largest purchaser of health care, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS).
Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa has announced plans to create a county-wide prescription drug bulk purchasing pool for all residents — the first of its kind in the country.
FTCR’s Letter to President George Bush and Senator John Kerry:
President George Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Senator John Kerry
304 Russell Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
RE: Join Us On the Rx Express
You will never have a problem affording the prescription drugs you need to stay healthy. However, 1 out of 4 seniors must choose between buying their medications and paying for other staples like food and rent. All told, 44 million uninsured Americans and millions of other underinsured patients struggle to access life sustaining prescription drugs.
Over the last decade prescription drugs have consistently been the fastest growing component of health care spending. In 2003, drug costs increased by nearly 16%. For their part, health insurers either raise rates or refuse to pay for necessary medications — leaving patients to fend for themselves.
Retirees too young for Medicare cannot afford to pay for their prescriptions out-of-pocket. Many Medicare enrollees cannot find a discount card under the new program that will guarantee that the drugs they need will be available when they need them. Although seniors surviving on limited incomes struggle the most, increasingly all but the wealthiest Americans are facing tough choices to cut back on health care.
From August 23 to August 26 the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) will charter a train to take a group of these average Americans to Vancouver, Canada where U.S. made drugs are sold at discounts of 30-60%.
As you know, Canada and the Department of Veteran Affairs negotiate bulk discounts with pharmaceutical companies. Over the last three years, FTCR has held town halls with consumers, business owners and health care providers. Through this process we have found strong bipartisan support for creating a national health care bulk-purchasing consortium. This market-friendly approach would allow patients of any age or economic position to join with small business owners to leverage better prices on prescription drugs. For more information visit http://www.healthconsensus.org
Bulk purchasing is one option for reform. You have both pledged to make health care — and specifically access to lower cost medications — a top priority if you are elected president in November. We invite both of you to join us on board the Rx Express to hear from seniors and other patients about how prescription drug bulk purchasing can lower drug costs for all Americans.
We know you have heard from the pharmaceutical companies because they employ more lobbyists than there are members of Congress. In case that was not enough to get your attention, drug manufacturers have spent millions of dollars sponsoring both parties’ conventions in hopes to quell new initiatives that might mean a hit to their profits — profits that are four to five times greater than the Fortune 500 average. The Rx Express will provide an equal opportunity for you to hear from real people about how skyrocketing prescription drug prices are bankrupting the health care system. The people’s convention will hold town meetings in cities across California, Oregon and Washington.
The Rx Express passengers waiting to hear your solutions include:
** Carole Jaquez, 78, who has made the trek from her home to the Mexican border several times in the last two years to buy her prescription drugs. She has cutback on visits to her two sons living in Florida, but Carole cannot keep up with the cost of her 8 prescriptions that run between $350-$400 per month. Carole has tried to make sense of the Medicare drug discount card program but cannot find a company that will guarantee that her prescriptions will be available when she needs them.
** Pat & Dave Parker, both over 60, who have seen their Blue Cross premiums and drug co-pays increase by over 80%. Blue Cross blames skyrocketing prescription drug costs as the reason for rate increases. The Parkers point to the $607 million in executive bonuses that company executives will receive in the pending merger with HMO giant Anthem. Both companies have refused to promise that Dave’s drug co-pays won’t increase because of the merger.
** Bill Clarke, now 67, who takes a prescription that runs $1200 a month to control seizures resulting from a high school football injury. His wife, Sonja, 66, retired from her job with the county two years ago. Sonja’s retirement plan provides health insurance through Kaiser to supplement prescription drug coverage under the Medicare program but that plan does not cover name-brand drugs. There is no generic equivalent for the medication Bill needs. As a result, Bill and Sonja were forced to sell their house to pay for Bill’s health care costs. Now have the Clarke’s have the “option” of paying $718 dollars a month in insurance premiums or take a bare-bones plan that costs $217 a month but won’t pay for Bill’s medication.
** Dr. Paul Smith who has seen the health care delivery system from the points of view of a physician and a scholar. Dr. Smith is also a patient, and takes multiple medications following his stroke in 1996. He spends roughly $1,000 a month on prescription drugs. Dr. Smith has become intensely involved in promoting changes in the health care delivery system, in part by exposing myths about the safety of drugs sold in Canada and efficacy of a national prescription drug bulk purchasing program. “Effective lobbying by Big Pharma” has given Americans the wrong idea, he says, and prevented reforms from seeping down from Canada into our health care system.
** Small business owners, Sharon and Barry Fowler, who struggled to afford basic health care and prescription drug coverage for their two employees. In December, the Fowler’s small business was forced to shut down because of a grocery store strike over health cost increases — putting their two employees out of work at the holiday season. The disruption in business was too much for the business to bear. The Fowlers were forced to close up shop for the last time in March.
The Rx Express will begin in San Diego and pick up patients from throughout California, Oregon, and Washington. You are welcome to join the Rx Express for any portion of the trip. Please ask your staff to contact us by Friday, August 20.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights
(310) 392-0522 ext. 319
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a non-profit and nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization. For more information, visit us on the web at http://www.healthconsensus.org or http://www.consumerwatchdog.org