Seniors buy drugs, save money on cross-border 'Rx Express'

A group of U.S. seniors saved more than half a million dollars when they joined Alliance for Retired American's "Rx Express" in June. The bus trips from United States cities to Canada - where prescription drugs are substantially cheaper than in the U.S. - were undertaken to dramatize the exploding cost older Americans must pay for prescription drugs and the need for a Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Alliance officials said 378 seniors visited doctors and purchased prescription drugs that saved them an average of $1,340 per person, on an annual basis, or $506,845 total.

Several members of Congress joined the bus trips that departed from Portland, Ore., Seattle, Wash., Anchorage, Alaska, Burlington, Vt., Detroit, Mich., and Grand Forks, N.D. The average bus ride was 277 miles and seniors spent an average of 14 hours round trip, including time spent with the doctors and filling the prescriptions.

"The Rx Express demonstrates the urgent need for action by Congress on an affordable Medicare prescription drug benefit," said Alliance Executive Director Ed Coyle before the Rx Express rolled north.

Joining the Portland contingent of seniors on their trip May 30 was Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. Seniors on the Portland bus saved $36,976 purchasing prescription drugs in Canada.

"It's simply staggering that by boarding a bus and traveling a few hours north to Canada, American seniors saved more than a half million dollars," said Oregon Congressman David Wu, D-First District. Wu gave a send-off to the Oregon seniors and Bradbury, who is the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.

"Many of these medicines were researched, developed and manufactured by American companies," Wu continued, "and there is no reason we should be paying hundreds of thousands dollars more than Canada. Our seniors deserve better."

The bus trips, said U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., show just how "ludicrous it is for U.S. citizens, especially older Americans, to have to go to Canada to purchase lower-cost medicines because of the lack of a prescription drug benefit within the Medicare program. We must bear in mind for every person making the trip to Canada, there are others who are far worse off physically and who need lower-priced medications even more. Unfortunately, they cannot physically board a bus."

According to the Alliance, older people account for 13 percent of the U.S. population but more than one-third of the drug expenditures. Nearly one-third of older Americans, 11 million, lack drug coverage of any type in the course of a year.

Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities have poorer health and require a greater number of and more expensive medications than the Medicare population as a whole. Although many qualify for Medicaid, 28 percent lack drug coverage from any source.

July 5, 2002 issue

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