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Prescription for Trouble?

Despite being illegal, more Americans combat high prescription drug costs by buying abroad.

Lower the Price?

Why not focus on those other commercial entities -- and pressure pharmaceutical companies to lower prescription drug costs for American citizens? "We don't have that authority, but the (FDA) commissioner has been saying that prices need to come down," explains McGinnis. "It's an inequity, but it's free enterprise."

Prescriptions from Canada are less expensive because its socialized medicine allows the government to control prescription drug prices, and the U.S. dollar goes further there.

As for the predicted effects of the new prescription drug bill signed into law on Dec. 8 by President Bush?

"From what I can tell, attempts to prevent senior citizens from getting drugs in Canada go into effect immediately while the new coverage for their prescription drugs doesn't go into effect until 2006," says Joe White, PhD, chairman of the department of political science at Case Western Reserve University and a Medicare expert who wrote the academic book, False Alarms: Why the Greatest Threat to Social Security and Medicare is the Campaign to Save Them.

"The bill appears to be more interested in changing the nature of Medicare than in providing prescription drug benefits for seniors who need them," he tells WebMD.

Not everyone agrees. The AARP, which endorsed the legislation, says on its web site that the new law "strengthens, not undermines Medicare by adding a long overdue prescription drug benefit and preserving the basic structure of the program."

What seniors will pay under the new plan is in fact complicated and varying. For instance, the current plan calls for seniors to pay the first $250 of drug costs in one year, then pay 25% of the costs until the bill reaches $2,250. Then there is a payment gap; the plan pays none of the next $2,850 in drug costs. Then, when drug costs reach $5,100 in one year, the benefit begins again and pays 95% of additional costs.

The plan is even much more complicated than this, though, prompting a letter from Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to older people next month to explain the law.

In the meantime, the next time that grandmother needs her TriCor prescription refilled? "I'm calling Canada," she says.

Reviewed on December 16, 2003

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