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Seniors save through state-sponsored
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Many may qualify for recently announced class action

[MARCH 1, 2004]  BOLINGBROOK -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich has returned from the nation's capital, where he announced a major class action lawsuit to give American consumers access to affordable prescription drugs. The governor met with nearly 300 seniors in suburban Bolingbrook on Monday to tell them how they can get discounts on their medications and help push for a permanent solution to skyrocketing drug prices.

"You have worked hard, you raised your families and saved carefully all your lives so you could live happily and independently in your retirement years. You did your part, but many of you still haven't been able to enjoy retirement and the promise of the American dream because the medications that would make it possible are out of reach," Gov. Blagojevich said.

"Since September, the state of Illinois has been asking the federal government to work with us to help our citizens buy safe, affordable prescription drugs from Canada. The FDA tells us our plans -- that have been carefully designed to protect consumers and help them buy affordable prescription drugs -- are unsafe, unsound and ill-considered. In the meantime, we see study after study reporting that senior citizens and people with chronic illnesses are being forced to choose between buying the medications they need and paying their rent. We can't let that continue to happen."

On Thursday, Gov. Blagojevich stood with an Illinois couple, Ray and Gaylee Andrews, in Washington, D.C. as they became the first plaintiffs in a federal class action lawsuit against the FDA and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. The Andrews, like older individuals in communities across the state and country, have very high monthly drug costs, but their limited income and lack of adequate prescription coverage prevent them from being able to meet their medication expenses and other basic needs.

"Ray and Gaylee are asking the courts to tell the FDA to respect people's rights to make their own medical decisions -- and allow them to buy safe, affordable drugs from Canada. Others in circumstances like the Andrews may be able to join this effort to change, once and for all, a law that discriminates against seniors and sick people in our country who can't get the drugs they need at a price they can afford," the governor added.

The suit challenges the current federal law that prohibits individuals and governments from importing prescription drugs from Canada on three grounds: for violating individuals' right to privacy by denying them freedom to make personal medical decisions; for improperly giving legislative authority to the executive branch by letting the secretary of Health and Human Services decide if and when importation should be legal; and for disproportionately affecting seniors in non-border states who do not have the option of driving across the border to buy less expensive medications, as has been permitted by the FDA.

 

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The governor urged seniors who, like the Andrews, have high drug costs, no prescription coverage, and fixed or low incomes to sign on to the legal action by forwarding their names and personal stories to Robert Clifford, the plaintiffs' attorney for the class action.

Blagojevich also invited his audience to join the Illinois Rx Buying Club, open to all Illinois' residents who are 65 or older and disabled people. The club offers savings that average more than 20 percent on all FDA-approved drugs for an annual administrative fee of $25.

"We're pushing for a permanent solution. But in the meantime, seniors in our state who have been unable to qualify for assistance in the past can get some help in affording their medications," Blagojevich told his audience.

"The idea is simple. We ask the senior and disabled citizens of Illinois to join forces with state employees and others covered by the state's health programs to strengthen our negotiating power. Then we say to the pharmaceutical companies: ‘If you give us a steep discount on your products, we can deliver millions of Illinois customers to you. If you refuse to give us a price break, we will take our business to your competitors.'

In its first eight weeks of operation, the buying club has enrolled 7,239 seniors and 318 disabled people. Another 57,449 participants in the state's Circuit Breaker/Pharmaceutical Assistance Program have been automatically enrolled so they will get discounts on drugs that are not covered by the income-based program. The average discount right now is 21 percent.

The buying club gives members immediate savings based on rebates that the program's private administrator, SavRx, has already negotiated with drug manufacturers. The state will negotiate additional rebates by combining the market leverage of the buying club with that of more than 500,000 people who are insured in the state-sponsored programs.

Enrollment information and a list of participating retail pharmacies are available by calling 1 (866) 215-3462, 1 (800) 252-8966 or on the Web at www.IllinoisRxBuying Club.com.

[News release from the governor's office]

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