PITTSBURGH – Retired workers reporting the results of their RxExpress bus trips to Canada shone a spotlight on naked profiteering by prescription drug corporations.

At a June 20 press conference in Washington, D.C., the Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) announced that just by crossing the border into Canada, 378 retired workers saved a total of $506,485, or $1,340 per person, on their medication costs, calculated over a year. Over a six-week period, retired workers from 13 states rode to Canada on 16 buses to purchase medicine as part of the group’s RxExpress project.

At 534 miles, 20 hours round trip on the bus, Minnesota retirees traveled the farthest, while Michigan workers had only a 5-mile half-hour trip. On average, seniors rode 277 miles and spent 14 hours round trip, to keep a half million in their pockets, out of the clutches of the drug companies.

“The intent behind the RxExpress is two-fold: first to help as many retirees as possible get the prescription drugs they need at affordable prices,” ARA executive director Edward F. Coyle told reporters. “The second purpose is to call attention to desperate circumstances many senior citizens face when buying medication and to urge Congress to take action now.”

United Steelworkers of America president Leo Gerard, who hails from Canada, pointed out that most U.S. people live too far from the border to take advantage of more affordable drug pricing in Canada.

Canada, Gerard said, has two advantages which curb drug corporation gouging: a national health care system and laws barring drug company advertising.

“Retirees should not be forced to leave the country to buy affordable prescription drugs,” said ARA president and former International Association of Machinists (IAM) president George Kourpias.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) praised ARA for its efforts and promised that the Senate will act in this session. Stabenow emphasized the importance of the retirees’ political fight, noting that for every U.S. senator, there are six drug corporation lobbyists.

“It is time for our elected officials to put aside partisan bickering and enact a universal, voluntary, affordable and comprehensive prescription drug benefit that is available to Medicare beneficiaries,” said bus rider Ruth Tubbs, of Bristol, Conn. “Congress has the power to fix the problem and now is the right time!” Tubbs pays $4,400 per year to buy prescriptions in the U.S. In Canada, she spent only $1,400 for the same medicines.

The LTV Steel Corp. collapse robbed retirees of their prescription drug coverage. Lois Gavzoda, of Canonsburg, Penn., is the spouse of an LTV victim. Getting on the bus saved her $1,700. “By going to the doctor and pharmacy that the Alliance arranged for us to visit in Canada, I was able to get my prescriptions filled at prices that were 65 percent lower than I pay in the U.S.,” she said. “If you want the senior vote in November, then you better act this session on meaningful prescription drug legislation,” she told members of Congress and reporters.

The difference in drug prices between the U.S. and Canada is dramatic. For example, Tamoxifin, a breast cancer drug, costs $314.44 in the U.S. for 100 20-mg tabs. In Canada, the price is $33.00 (all amounts are U.S. dollars). Heavily advertised “wonder drug” Vioxx costs $206.67 in the US for 100 12.5-mg tabs, but in Canada the price is $98.67. Another drug familiar to TV viewers is Lipitor. The U.S. price is $443.33 for 100 10-mg tabs; in Canada, it’s $124.17.

Public pressure on Congress to act even has the Republicans offering legislation, HR-4954. ARA president Kourpias denounced the Republican bill as a “fraud and a hoax designed to give Republicans cover at the ballot box in November.” He said the bill leaves in the “doughnut hole” seniors who yearly spend between $2,000 and $3,000 on prescription drugs – they would pay prescription drug premiums but receive no benefit or break in the cost.

ARA supports the prescription drug plan developed by Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) because it will provide cost relief for fixed income retirees with high drug costs.

For more information visit www.retiredamericans.org

The author can be reached at dwinebr696@aol.com


Conn Hallinan
Conn Hallinan

Conn Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus. A retired journalism professor, he previously was an editor of People's World when it was a West Coast publication.