2004-05-12 / Seniors

Things Look Brighter For Getting Cheaper Drugs Imported

There were indications last week that the way was being cleared for importing less costly prescription drugs, a move that would make them cheaper for consumers, in the United States.

For the first time, a high-ranking Bush Administration official who has been leading the fight to block imports, said they were inevitable and that he would advise President George W. Bush to oppose them no longer, according to the Associated Press wire service.

The AP reported the official, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, whose agency has led the opposition to drug imports, foresees that a consensus is building in Congress for the imports and that Congress will pass a bill approving them.

Also for the first time, the chief executive of a major pharmacy, CVS, broke with the rest of his industry and came out in support of temporarily legalizing drug imports.

CVS Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Ryan told a government task force on drug importation that millions of Americans already have opted to import drugs "because they can’t afford not to," so this government should no longer fight them on the issue.

The sudden shift in momentum on the issue after the Bush Administration and the drug manufacturing industry blocked it so staunchly, appears to be tied in with the new Medicare drug discount cards.

Reports out of Washington reveal that many congressmembers are hearing constituents complaining that despite the 10 percent and slightly higher discounts, seniors are still paying too much for their drugs.

The main thrust of the opposition to imports has been that importing drugs may not be a safe practice because of the possibilities of counterfeiting and cutting the quality of the imported products.

Thompson alluded to this aspect of the issue as he shifted position. He said that if drug imports were approved, it would be expensive for the government because the number of inspectors keeping tabs on the companies exporting the drugs to this country would have to be increased.

The situation is strange because most of the drugs in question are basically made by the same American manufacturers. The drugs are sold at a high price on the U.S. market because the manufacturers have to cover the high price of researching and developing new products. Also, there are no price controls.

HELP IN GETTING DISCOUNT CARD INFO: There have been reports from all around the country of seniors having problems getting accurate information about the drug discount cards. Here are several sources to get help:

•U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Web site—www.medicare.gov–or call (800) MEDICARE.

•New York City Department for the Aging Health Insurance Information Counseling and Assistance Program—www.nyc.gov/aging—or call 311.

•New York State Office for the Aging—1-800-342-9871.

•AARP assistance Web site—www.aarp.org—or call 1-800-OUR-AARP.

•National Council on the Aging e-mail Program Manager Elvira Lovaglio, elvira.lovaglio@ncoa. org, or call 516-485-5431.

Members of the New York state EPIC (Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Program) can call EPIC for assistance.

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