To lower drug costs, strike while iron’s hot

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The Californian (Salinas, CA)

WHERE WE STAND: Two bills before the Assembly that would place affordable prescription drugs within the reach of California consumers and businesses deserve support. Urge your lawmakers to get behind them.

The horror stories about skyrocketing prescription-drug prices include many Salinas-area senior citizens. We hear from elderly residents who say they often are forced to choose between paying for medication or rent.

For example, retiree Ed Maples, 84, said he spends 70 percent of his pension and Social Security payment each month on prescription drugs and health insurance premium.

Then there is Mel Hoffman who was paying $300 a month to a Salinas pharmacy for his diabetes medication until he found a less expensive source on the Internet.

Finally, some relief is in sight. There is movement in Sacramento on an effort to reduce the costs of prescription drugs that are bleeding the wallets of taxpayers and putting lifesaving drugs out of the reach of seniors and other consumers.

Assemblyman Simon Salinas, D-Salinas, has joined a team of legislators sponsoring “The Affordable Prescription Drug Act of 2004.” If passed, the act would provide immediate options (beginning Jan. 1, 2005) for Californians to buy affordable prescription drugs. It also would give the Legislature the tools it needs for increasing the state’s purchasing power and negotiate for cheaper drug prices.

The high cost of prescription drugs is an issue that crosses political party lines.

“Americans are paying more for prescription drugs than anyone else in the world,” said Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer, D-Glendale, who was in Salinas a week ago to promote the bill package. He said, “Our tax dollars support 2/3 of the research and development drug companies do. Yet, many of us can not afford to buy those new drugs when we get sick.”

The act is composed of two bills. Assembly Bill 1957 would require the state Board of Pharmacy to set up a Web site for consumers so they could compare pharmaceutical prices in the United States and Canada, where drug prices can be 40 percent to 75 percent cheaper. The Web site also would link consumers and the Canadian pharmacies certified by the state board.

Assembly Bill 1958 would increase the state’s purchasing power by pooling state agencies (and possibly HMOs and businesses) that buy prescription drugs. This would strengthen the state’s position when negotiating for lower drug prices.

Among supporters of the legislation are the AARP, California Nurses Association, Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, Congress of California Seniors, Commission on Aging, California Senior Legislature and the Gray Panthers.

AB 1957 is scheduled to resume its course in the Assembly next week. Voters and consumers alike have a stake in finding relief from sky-high drug costs. Urge your legislators to support these bills.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
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