Manatee woman to ride drug train;

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Seniors, disabled people climb aboard to buy cheaper prescription drugs in Canada

Bradenton Herald

BRADENTON BEACH – The Rx Express could be the answer to Virginia Neill’s prayers.

The expense-paid, charter-train trip taking patients to Toronto to buy cheaper prescription drugs could help the Bradenton Beach resident keep a roof over her head for a little while longer.

Her monthly drug bill totals $1,200 and Neill, 52, is disabled, uninsured and unable to work because of her complex medical condition, with multiple autoimmune disorders and degenerative joint problems.

She will board the Rx Express in Winter Haven on Monday to join the rail protest against high U.S. drug prices.

Along the way, the train chartered by The Foundation For Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, will pick up other patients and senior citizens in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

Their trip should net big savings: Passengers on the first Rx Express trip, which ran from San Diego to Vancouver in August, saved passengers an average of $2,000 each on their annual prescription drug bills, the foundation said.

“We are making the trip to Canada to make the point that we shouldn’t have to make a trip Canada to buy drugs,” said Jerry Flanagan, a foundation spokesman. “Our train will be filled with seniors and other patients who can’t afford their prescriptions. Many have to choose between food and drugs.”

The foundation hopes its chartered train trips to Canada will catch the attention of President George W. Bush or Sen. John Kerry, perhaps influencing one or both of the presidential candidates to back a bulk-purchase plan similar to Canada’s that would help all citizens, regardless of age, save on prescription medicines.

Flanagan admits it’s a hard sell. Neither candidate has pledged to enact such a program that would allow Americans access to lower drug costs, Flanagan said in a press release.

But he sent out invitations anyway to both presidential tickets.

So far, Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, have not said if they will come, but President Bush has declined.

The bulk-purchase plan is not favored by the pharmaceutical industry, which justifies the high cost of drugs in this country to pay for expensive research to put the medicines on market.

The drug industry is also opposed to importation of pharmaceuticals from Canada, according to a position paper written by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, that says exportation of drugs from Canada carries high risks for patients.

“Although it may sound politically appealing to amend current health and safety laws to allow for such importation of pharmaceuticals,” the position paper states, “doing so presents real risks to patients and provides no guarantee that the imported pharmaceuticals would be cheaper.”

The savings garnered by passengers on the Rx Express appear to refute that statement.

The foundation says that Neill and her fellow travelers can expect savings of up to 60 percent, based on price comparison research.

Neill said she cannot afford to pass up those savings. One month’s supply of Celebrex is $197. She has been told that in Canada she can purchase a three-month supply for $187.

She is hoping for a face-to-face meeting with either Kerry or Bush, but she will be happy to tell her story to either Vice President Cheney or Sen. John Edwards, as well.

Her complex medical problems are detailed in hundreds of medical reports and test results that stretch back more than 23 years. Nonetheless, she has been denied Social Security disability three times. She has appealed, but it will take 12-24 months for her case to reach the courts.

In the meantime, Neill said, she must continue to take her medications and follow her doctors’ orders or else her application for Social Security disability will become void. Should she be denied again, Neill says she may be forced to sell her home and move to Mexico, where living costs are cheaper.

“I should not be forced to leave my country,” Neill said. “I love my country. Two of my children are in the military serving this country. I don’t want to leave, but I have to keep a roof over my head.”

Gale Carter, a friend of Neill’s, lives just a few blocks away in Bradenton Beach.

It was through Carter that Neill found out about the Rx Express. Carter, a former medical social worker, says she tries to help Neill as much as she can.

“She has a lot of medical expense and in this country we don’t have programs to help people like her who fall through the cracks,” said Carter.

Despite the pain the plagues her daily, Neill said she is happy to be selected for the trip to Canada to make a point about America’s broken health care system.

“There’s gotta be hope. Somebody has to reach out and try,” said Neill, who will board the train Monday in Winter Haven. “By all that is holy, I have tried the best I could . . . I can’t do anymore.”

Consumer Watchdog
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