U.S. Seniors Travel to Canada for Affordable Rx Drugs;

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Reimportation and Bulk Purchasing Urged

Vancouver, Canada — While the U.S. national drug debate has failed to address skyrocketing costs, a group of seniors joined the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) on a train trip to Canada — the Rx Express — to purchase affordable prescriptions. The 20 seniors — some of whom traveled 3 days — saved an average of 59.8% off the prices they pay for the same prescription drugs at U.S. pharmacies. The Rx Express riders would save an average of $2,000.00 per year U.S. on the prescriptions.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs save 30-60% off the cost of U.S. made drugs as a result of negotiating lower rates for bulk quantities. Canadian Federal regulation and Provincial Pharmacare programs provide Canadians with 30-60% savings on U.S. made drugs. Consumer Advocates called for the immediate implementation of a national prescription bulk-purchasing program in the U.S. for all patients regardless of age.

“It is outrageous that our seniors, many of whom survive on limited incomes, are forced to travel to Canada to afford their prescription medications,” said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “While Federal officials have turned a blind eye to the problem, California and many other states have taken action to protect our most vulnerable residents.”

U.S. surveys have found that 1 out of 4 seniors must often choose between buying necessary medications and paying for other staples like food and rent. In the U.S. prescription drug costs increased at a rate 5 times that of inflation in 2002.

U.S. President George W. Bush and Democratic nominee Senator John Kerry were invited to join the train trip to hear Medicare enrollees and other patients about the need for a national prescription drug bulk-purchasing program in the U.S. Neither candidate has pledged to enact such a program that would allow patients access to lower cost drugs regardless of age.

“Americans are looking for safe and more affordable drugs in Canada, but Americans don’t need Canadian drugs, they need Canadian drug policies,” said Colleen Fuller, President of PharmaWatch.

Under the bulk purchasing model, states and the Federal government could dramatically increase their bargaining power with drug manufacturers by combining current drug purchases for public health care programs, individual consumers, hospitals and employers.

On December 8, 2003, President Bush signed HR 1, which maintains the existing ban on importing prescription drugs until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certifies their safety and bars the new Medicare prescription drug program from negotiating bulk discounts with pharmaceutical companies. The FDA has not initiated any quality review processes nor has it announced its intention to do so, but has stated that it will not stop individual consumers from reimporting drugs.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials claim that reimporting prescription drugs from Canada is unsafe despite the fact that more than 40% of prescription drugs on the world market are produced at FDA approved facilities. Currently, it is estimated that Americans spend $700-$850 million dollars annually on drugs from Canada and other countries.

“We want Americans to have better drug review policies to control the costs of pharmaceuticals in the U.S. They shouldn’t have to choose between food and rent or pharmaceuticals. Americans shouldn’t have to come to Canada to get drugs — they need better drug review and negotiation,” said Patt Shuttleworth, Vice-President of the British Columbia Nurses’ Union.

Four proposals pending in the California legislature would provide for direct bulk purchasing of prescriptions (AB 1958) and drug importation from Canada (SB 1349, SB 1144, AB 1957).

“Prescription drug bulk purchasing is a market-savvy strategy to control rising health care costs that are uninsuring the insured,” said Jerry Flanagan of FTCR. “At an increasing rate, average working people cannot afford basic health coverage. Prescription drug costs are fueling 15-20% and higher annual health care cost increases.”

In a new report, Crisis and Opportunity: Forging a Universal Health Care Consensus, FTCR announced three model cost-control laws and a model universal health care law. The model laws are designed to address the immediate affordability crisis: prescription drug bulk purchasing, health insurer premium regulation, and hospital market stabilization. Click here to download the report.

Drug companies often blame high research and development (R&D) costs as the driving force behind double-digit annual increases in drug expenditures. However, a 2000 report found that pharmaceutical companies had overstated their R&D costs by as much as five times actual costs. Data also shows that up to half of the R&D costs for some of the most expensive drugs (cancer and AIDS treatments) are paid for with taxpayer dollars. The pharmaceutical industry has consistently been the world’s most profitable industry over the past eight years, with profits four to five times higher than that of the average Fortune 500 firm.

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