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Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on Kickoff of “Drug Price Refugees” Bus Trip to Canada for Affordable Prescription Drugs


Jan. 18, 2000

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on Kickoff of “Drug Price Refugees” Bus Trip to Canada for Affordable Prescription Drugs

The “Drug Price Refugee” bus is leaving for Canada with New Hampshire seniors who often have to choose between buying their life-saving medicines or putting food in their mouths. That is not a choice that anyone should have to make in this great country.

This bus trip should not be happening. If New Hampshire seniors were not being price-gouged by the pharmaceutical industry, there would be no bus trip. If prescription drugs were just as affordable for seniors in New Hampshire as they are for seniors in Canada, there would be no bus trip. If politicians in Washington would have the courage to stand up to the massive drug industry lobbying and campaign contribution machine and do what is right for seniors, there would be no bus trip.

Instead, seniors in New Hampshire, like those throughout the United States, are paying far too much for medicines produced by the very same companies that supply drugs to Canadians. On Jan. 4, a drug price study released by Public Citizen and the other groups sponsoring this trip to Canada found that New Hampshire seniors with inadequate or no prescription drug coverage are being charged more than twice as much for their medications as drug companies charge their “most favored” customers.

Price-gouging seniors pays off handsomely for U.S. drug companies, which during the last election cycle spent $150 million to lobby Congress and another $14 million in campaign contributions to make sure that Congress did nothing to halt these runaway prices. According to a new congressional study, drug company profits for the last three years were at 17 percent C three times those of other industries. No one wants to take away the drug industry’s ability to make a decent profit. It’s the outrageous profits resulting from the price-gouging that are unfair and harmful to millions of senior citizens.

Unless we stop these overcharges, bus trips like this one will continue to happen. That’s why we invited the presidential candidates to “Get on the Bus” with us. They need to learn firsthand that the same drugs cost 25 to 50 percent less in Canada for one simple reason: The Canadian government negotiates lower prices with the pharmaceutical industry.

There is a solution to the drug cost crisis: Enactment of the Allen bill (H.R. 664/S.731) and a comprehensive Medicare drug benefit. That’s why we’re asking the presidential candidates to declare their support for this bill. The Allen bill will reduce the cost of drugs for millions of Medicare beneficiaries by 40 percent — the discount now given by the pharmaceutical industry to the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. That also happens to be about the same lower price that these good folks will pay in Canada.

Let me be perfectly clear: Any new Medicare prescription drug benefit will be unaffordable, both for taxpayers and for seniors paying high out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy, unless the Medicare program can negotiate substantial price discounts on behalf of all beneficiaries.

We hope that each of the candidates or one of their representatives will “get on the bus” for fair prescription drug prices today. Eight hours on the bus each way, an overnight stay in a hotel, freezing temperatures — this is no way to begin a new millennium. Let’s make this the last time that American seniors will have to suffer the indignity of being refugees from the richest country in the world and forced to travel to another country to get affordable prescription drugs.