Prescription drug costs for seniors

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 19, 2003

This past weekend I attended a legislative seminar at Point Clear where the principal discussion topic was containing the cost of prescription drugs for senior citizens.

Americans 65 and older are the largest consumers of health care and this includes the consumption of prescription drugs.

Many take multiple medicines that consume a large share of their fixed incomes.

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Traditional Medicare offers no drug benefit and more than one in four Americans 65 and older have no coverage through other sources.

The price of prescription drugs in America has gone sky-high and the Federal Government is encouraging these high prices by banning the importation of identical drugs from foreign countries that are up to 80% less expensive.

So what is a senior to do about preserving their health when drugs are out of reach of their ability to pay?

Unfortunately many seniors are simply doing without.

Some are taking only part of what their doctors have prescribed and others are using life savings just to meet drug costs so they can stay alive.

Our main speaker at the seminar was an Illinois state legislator who recently passed a bill setting up a procedure to allow discount drug prescriptions for seniors and allow imports of drugs from Canada where the costs of the same American dispensed drug is less than half.

Under this legislator's bill, which will be effective January 1, 2004 in the state of Illinois, the senior citizens can enroll in the discount club and purchase directly from the state which has bought in quantity and will pass the savings along to the consumer.

In addition the ban on importing from neighboring Canada will be lifted and this will enable seniors to save hundreds of dollars each year on their prescription drug costs if they choose to import.

One of the main obstacles to the Illinois approach is that the federal government is saying that only Congress, not he state legislatures, can control drug imports.

This issue is sure to be litigated after the Illinois law is operational in January.

My thought is that if it is a federal issue then why don't we call on our U S Congressmen and Senators to do something about it.

I asked this question of the speaker at the seminar.

He said he thinks Congress is finally getting the message.

He stated that one of the big hurdles is that the Bush Administration is siding with the drug manufacturers and is throwing up federal roadblocks all along the way.

But one encouraging bit of news, according to our speaker, is that an unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in Congress has formed around legislation that would make it legal for residents and U.S. pharmacies to purchase prescription drugs from Canada and two dozen other nations.

It passed the House of Representatives in late July when 87 Republicans deserted their party's leaders and joined 155 Democrats.

The issue faces an uncertain future in the U S Senate.

However, the pressure continues to build on President Bush and the Senate leadership to find a solution to excessive domestic drug costs.

In this environment, there is a good chance some relief for our seniors will be forthcoming.

I will continue to keep you informed on this important issue.

Senator Wendell Mitchell can

be reached at 334-242-7883, or by writing

to P.O. Box 225, Luverne, AL 36049.