East Coast Rx Express — Mildred & Leonard Fruhling — Edison, New Jersey

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Mildred Fruhling was a broker, dealing in life, health and disability insurance, so she was, as she puts it, "a little bit ahead of the game." Because of her knowledge, activism, and continuing research, she remains better educated about health costs than most consumers. But that has not prevented Mildred and her husband, Leonard, from the daily struggle to afford their prescription drugs, like most older Americans.

"People are not aware of what’s coming down the pike, " Mildred says. "It’s bad, bad news." Even the Bush Administration’s so-called "reform" Medicare legislation, set to take effect in 2006, is a sham, she says. "The more I read about it, the more outraged I get," Mildred says.

The Fruhlings have been buying prescription drugs from Canada for some time, scouring the country north of the border for the least expensive deals. They will be looking for particular medications when they arrive on the Rx Express in Toronto: Pentana, Fosamex and others.

But Mildred, who works tirelessly to reform health care in the United States, also is on board "to deliver a message: I shouldn’t have to be doing what I’m doing to keep afloat in my golden years." Nor, she says, should other older Americans.

The Fruhlings, who both are 76, live in Edison, N.J., and have been in the Garden State for 30 years. Leonard worked in Manhattan’s garment district. Mildred, an independent contractor, did not have prescription drug coverage, but Leonard did, through his AFL-CIO union, even after retirement. As costs increased, however, and coverage began to seep away.

In 2002, "they cut the cord," Mildred says. "At first, I panicked." Then she began to do research. She calculated that she and her husband were going to have to pay $7,000 a year for prescription drugs alone. "This was not going to be something I swallowed," Mildred says.

The Fruhlings devised various stratagems to bring costs down. They asked their doctors if they could reduce their dosages. They went to generics. Most importantly, they went on the Internet and did research. That led to buying medications from Canada.

Back in the U.S., things aren’t getting any better. The so-called "discount" card ballyhooed by the Bush administration actually would drive up the Fruhlings’ prescription drug costs, Mildred says. Most people can’t understand it in any event, she adds, and don’t use it.

Mildred travels about talking to seniors and others, "keeping very, very busy," letting people know that there is a move afoot in the U.S. to privatize Medicare. "The real threat is going back to pre-1965 and turning Medicare over to private industry."

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