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California Groups Decry High Prescription Drug Costs

For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Anthony Wright, Health Access, 916-442-2308
Jodi Reid, California Alliance of Retired Americans, 415-550-0828
Bruce Livingstone, Senior Action Network, 415-515-1856 (cell)
Earl Lui, Consumers Union, 415-431-6747 or 415-601-6747 (cell)

Groups Push Legislation That Would Help Consumers Purchase Medications At More Affordable Prices

SACRAMENTO, CA – Senior citizens are spending hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars more each year for needed medications than they could be if they purchased generic brands or pharmaceuticals from Canada, according to the OURx Bill of Rights coalition, made up of organizations supporting prescription drug reform. The coalition is urging lawmakers to enact a package of bills that would rein in soaring drug costs, including legislation that would help consumers make more informed choices about the availability of lower cost medications.
“Prescription drug costs have increased by double digits in recent years and all Californians are paying the price, especially senior citizens,” said Nan Brasmer, President of California Alliance for Retired Americans. “Too many senior citizens are struggling to make ends meet because their monthly prescription drug bills have gone through the roof.”
Retail prescription drug prices increased an average of 7.3 percent a year from 1992-2002 – more than double the average inflation rate of 2.5 percent. In 2002, American consumers paid $48.6 billion in out-of-pocket prescription drug costs. Approximately 29 percent of Americans failed to fill a prescription in 2000 because they could not afford to do so. Meanwhile, drug company profits have skyrocketed. In 2001, the Fortune 500 pharmaceutical companies’ profits rose 33 percent, making it the most profitable industry in the world.
At a news conference in Sacramento, a group of senior citizens and consumers spoke about the high prices they pay for needed prescription drugs and representatives of the OURx Bill of Rights coalition highlighted how much they could save by relying on lower cost alternatives. For example:
• Seniors who fill a prescription for Lipitor, a drug used to lower cholesterol levels, pay $95.99 each month if they go to a leading pharmacy in the U.S. By contrast, the Canadian price for Lipitor is $67.73 and a lower cost, effective alternative is available for $42.99 in the U.S.
• A monthly prescription for Glucophage, used to treat diabetes, is available for $48.54 from a leading pharmacy in the U.S. But the price of Glucophage is $15.12 in Canada and a generic version is available for $9.19 in the U.S.
• Seniors who rely on Zestril to treat their high blood pressure can expect to pay $54 for a monthly prescription filled by a leading U.S. pharmacy. They could save money by purchasing Zestril from a Canadian pharmacy for $32.52 or pay $9.99 for a generic version in the U.S.
• Celebrex, which is used for arthritis, costs $77.00 each month from a leading pharmacy in the U.S. By contrast, the monthly prescription goes for $37.68 in Canada and a lower cost, effective alternative is available for $13.89 in the U.S.
• A monthly prescription of Nexium, to control acid reflux, goes for $119.99 from one leading pharmacy in the U.S. Consumers can pay $70.18 by purchasing the drug from Canada or just $13.82 for a lower cost, effective alternative available from most U.S. pharmacies.
“Big pharmaceutical companies are gouging consumers with high drug prices and forcing senior citizens and others on fixed incomes to choose between filling their prescriptions and purchasing other necessities,” said David Grant of the Senior Action Network. “Consumers need better information about low cost prescription drug alternatives so they can get the medications they need without breaking the bank.”
The OURx Bill of Rights legislative package includes measures that would help consumers make more informed drug choices, protect them against deceptive marketing and pricing practices, and explore avenues for making prescription drugs more affordable for California consumers and taxpayers. Among the bills supported by the coalition are AB 2326 (Corbett), which would require the creation of evidence-based “prescription drug report cards” for consumers and other healthcare purchasers; and AB 1957 (Frommer), which would require the state Board of Pharmacy to establish a website with links to certified Canadian pharmacies so Californians could safely purchase drugs.
“These bills will enable consumers to make smart choices about where to turn to for safe and effective prescription drugs at more affordable prices,” said Liz Doyle of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. “We urge California lawmakers to support these common sense measures to help rein in exorbitant prescription drug costs.”
The OURx Bill of Rights Campaign includes AARP, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, CALPIRG, California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA), California Labor Federation (AFL-CIO), Consumer Federation of California, Consumers Union, Greenlining Institute, Health Access, and Senior Action Network.