Canada-bound seniors search for cheaper prescription drugs;

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Train stops in Savannah to pick up people who can’t afford medicine here.

Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville)

SAVANNAH — Nellie and David McGowan boarded a train in Savannah on Monday on their way to Canada. But it’s no pleasure trip.

The Guyton duo are among 25 people aboard the Rx Express, a chartered train taking U.S. residents from the East Coast to Toronto to buy lower-cost prescription drugs.

Nellie McGowan’s main goal of the cross-border shopping trip: to find generics of cholesterol-lowering medicines, Pravachol and Zocor, also known as statins.

The McGowans have no prescription drug coverage and spend almost $400 a month on their prescription drugs, including the statins.

“But if I can get it for $200 in Canada, then I will get it for $200 in Canada,” said Nellie McGowan, a 74-year-old retired registered nurse. “In my old age I am becoming a radical.”

Such pharmaceuticals are available in Canada for 30 percent to 60 percent less because Canadians buy in bulk, a system that drug companies have blocked in the United States, said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, the California-based organizer of the train trip.

Although importation is banned, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows people with a U.S. prescription to buy up to a three-month supply of drugs for personal use.

The riders will meet Thursday with a Canadian physician, then go to a pharmacy to purchase their medications.

McGowan and her 78-year-old husband, a retired pipe fitter at a paper company, live on a fixed income. The amount they make is too high to qualify for patient assistance programs offered by drug companies, but too low to comfortably afford the drugs.

The new discount drug card wouldn’t help them, either: Their Springfield pharmacy, Quick Rx, already gives them a 10 percent discount.

“The card is not doing the wonders that some of those commercials tell you,” McGowan said. She doesn’t see that changing in the future with the Medicare card, which takes effect in 2006.

“I just think something is wrong when the middle class is dropped,” McGowan said. “Why don’t they make them release the generics, like other countries? I’d buy them here.”

In addition to pushing for an earlier release of the less-expensive generics, she said, the U.S. government also should negotiate prices with drug companies.

President Bush opposed bulk purchasing in the 2003 Medicare prescription drug law, which banned the Medicare program from negotiating discounts with pharmaceutical companies, Flanagan said. He blamed Bush’s action on pressure from the pharmaceutical industry.

But the push by Flanagan and his group for a nationalized health-care plan for prescription drugs has opposition, largely among those in the pharmaceutical industry.

Such a government-run program would severely restrict consumers’ access to prescription drugs and pharmacies, contends the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association. The Washington-based association represents America’s pharmacy benefit managers.


Here’s a look at how much each candidate’s campaign has received from pharmaceutical companies since 2000.

President Bush: $871,824
Sen. John Kerry: $349,312.

Source: The Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights

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