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Prilosec, One of the Most Common Drugs Used For Ulcers, Can Cost More Than $1,500 a Year

Schumer Calls For Adding a Prescription Drug Benefit To Medicare

Underscoring the need to expand Medicare to include prescription drug coverage, US Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed that Jamestown area seniors pay steep prices for prescription drugs and that nationally, the average senior without prescription coverage spends $800 out   of pocket each year filling critical prescriptions. Schumer showed what a typical Jamestown senior pays for drugs for heart ailments and other common illnesses, including an average of $1424.79 a year for Prilosec, one of the most common drugs used to treat ulcers.

"With so many seniors on fixed incomes, this is the kind of medicine that is hurting people," said Schumer.   Nationally, about 35% of seniors have no prescription drug coverage. Furthermore, even those seniors with a prescription benefit typically spend $570 per year in copayments and premiums related specifically to prescription drugs, according to the AARP.

"Supplemental insurance policies that have a prescription drug benefit are not very generous," said Schumer. "Whether you are fortunate enough to be able to afford supplemental insurance or not, the prospect of growing old and needing prescription medication is a frightening one."

Between 1993 and 1998, the average price of prescription drugs increased 40%, from $26.61 to $37.38 per prescription. During the same time period, the average number of prescriptions filled by senior citizens increased from twelve to eighteen per year and total US spending on prescription drugs increased by 84%.

According to the New York State Office for the Aging, 88% of Jamestown seniors have incomes of less than $25,000 annually, and Social Security is the only form of income for 24% of them. Nine percent live under the poverty line and 15% suffer from some kind of chronic physical or other limitation.

The amount of money that seniors pay for prescriptions varies widely depending on their health. Schumer noted that a senior taking Prilosec to treat ulcers must pay between $1339.08 and $1,510.08 for a year's supply of medication, depending on which Jamestown area pharmacy fills the prescription. "That is an enormous sum of money for anyone to pay, but especially for those who rely on Social Security and a pension," said Schumer.

After surveying area drugstores, Schumer found that a Jamestown area senior who suffers from heart disease could pay more than $600 each year for heart medication alone. A senior suffering from depression would likely pay more than $850 for medicine. An elderly patient who suffers from ulcers and heart disease could pay over $2,000 for their prescription drugs.

"Medical care has changed a great deal since Medicare was created in 1965. Today, prescription medication has taken the place of surgical procedures and hospital stays as a way to treat most illnesses, but Medicare has not caught up with the modern world," said Schumer. "Seniors who want to live an active and healthy life cannot afford the drugs that can make that possible. They are faced with the false choice of financial health versus physical health."

Schumer surveyed right area pharmacies and compared the cost of eleven of the prescription drugs most commonly used by senior citizens. A year's supply of Zoloft, the leading depression medication for seniors, would cost $911.04 at the WalMart in Lakewood and $843.00 at the Southern Tier Pharmacy in Jamestown. A year's supply of Norvasc, the leading hypertension and angina medication, would cost $499.08 at KMart in Jamestown and $572.28 at CVS in Dunkirk. A year's supply of Pepcid, a leading medication for treating acid reflux and stomach ulcers, would cost $1,221.84 at Tops Pharmacy in Jamestown and $1,381.08 at Eckerd in Lakewood.

A typical heart patient takes three medications each day: Lanoxin to prevent congestive heart failure, Vasotec to stabilize and reduce blood pressure, and Lasix, which is a diuretic. A Jamestown senior would pay about $600 per year for these three medications.

Prescription drugs are the fastestgrowing major cost component of both private insurance and Medicaid. While managed care and other measures slowed overall growth in national health care spending to about five percent annual growth between 1992 and 1997, spending for drugs increased by twice that rate at 11% per year.

In May, Schumer cosponsored legislation entitled the Medicare Expansion for Needed Drugs (MEND) Act that would establish a prescription drug benefit in the Medicare program. The legislation, which contains the basic provisions of President Clinton's prescription drug plan, would offer a voluntary, universal prescription drug benefit at an estimated monthly cost of $26. In addition, Medicare would pay for 50 percent of the cost of the first $2,000 of a person's prescriptions annually, with its share rising to $5,000 by 2009.

Schumer said that he and his Senate colleagues have made this plan a top priority of this session of Congress and that he hopes the Senate will pass the bill this year. "I'm here to listen to Jamestown seniors and take their stories to the Senate floor," he said. "High drug prices are a terrible burden seniors shouldn't have to shoulder alone. This plan would make a real difference in the lives of people who deserve better than to weigh the cost of drugs against the cost of food or other essentials," said Schumer.

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