February 19, 2001
For some Canada is the only hope
by Hazel Pownall
My mother-in-law Mary is an 85-year-old senior citizen on Social Security with severe Parkinson's disease, heart problems, arthritis and other medical conditions. She needs several medications to control her disease symptoms and relieve as much of her suffering as possible.
Her daughter and care provider, Lexie, informed us that Mary's supplement insurance to Medicare was cancelled. She no longer has prescription coverage and her prescriptions will take her entire social security check of approximately $850.
The present equates to over $2,500 for a 90- day period which is an impossible situation. I spent many hours researching insurance companies and different pharmacies in an attempt to get her medicine at a reduced cost.
In my search, I called the Northshore Senior Center and was given the name and number of Rx Passport (1-800-320-8218). I contacted them and began a journey into what, for me, was unknown and scary territory.
I was told that I could go as a proxy for my mother-in-law and get her prescriptions filled at a pharmacy just across the border in Canada.They faxed all the necessary forms to Mary's doctors and to me. It would be necessary for me to meet with a doctor at the clinic in Canada where they would review Mary's medical records sent by her doctors. As a proxy, I needed Mary's birth certificate, picture ID and copies of Mary's prescriptions that had been faxed to the doctor.
I was to meet the bus at the Totem Pole in the Northgate Shopping Center. RX Passport is partnered with Northwest Transport which provides medical transportation throughout the Northwest. Northwest Transport provides the bus and a nurse attendnt (CNA)/hostess. Upon boarding the bus, she checked all the paper work to be sure we had what was needed to get back across the border into the U.S. She and the bus driver helped people onto the bus and to their seats.
As the bus started its trip, people mentioned that it felt like a tour bus. The nurse/hostess talked to us about what to expect and how we would be helped with any challenges we might encounter.
Everything was geared for the passengers on the bus. They stopped twice at rest stops and again helped each person off and on the bus. Soon people were talking and laughing with each other. It really was like a tour bus.
Upon arrival at the clinic in Canada, the bus driver and nurse/hostess helped each person off the bus and walked with any person needing assistance the short distance through the square to the very modern doctors' clinic. The nurse/hostess helped each person go to the counter and get checked in and stayed during the entire process.
After I met with the doctor, who went over the details of Mary's medical conditions and her medicines with me, the nurse/hostess took me to the pharmacy. There the prescriptions for each passenger were already filled, as the clinic had re-written them, per the American doctor's prescriptions, in advance and given them to the pharmacy.
I had called the pharmacy ahead and knew the amount of Mary's prescriptions. These were the same prescriptions that were estimated at $2,500 for 90 days, but were being purchased by me for $480 U.S.
It seemed I had the largest savings on the bus that day, but the savings were tremendous for others as well.
Most said they saved at least one-half and one said she had saved one-third.
We were told that not all medicines were such great savings. They do furnish you with a list of popular medicines with approximate comparisons of U.S. pharmacy costs versus Canadian pharmacy costs.
Mary's doctor wrote her prescriptions for one year. However, I am only allowed to bring a 90-day supply across the border at a time.
When we left the clinic, we were served a box lunch at a bakery, which was included in the cost of the trip. The bus trip and lunch is $60 and the doctor's visit is $39, for a total of $99.
At the border we were asked if we had any prescriptions over 90 days. We all said "no" and were cleared to go. Simple as that.
On another trip to Canada, I was happy to see a lady on the bus who had been on my first trip. Also a few of the other passengers on the bus were going back for refills. As I listened to their conversations, there seemed to be the same concerns and questions throughout the group. They expressed fear of rising medical costs. They asked, "Why doesn't everyone do this? They were concerned about the new administration and health care. They were going to tell all their friends about this program. But mostly they were asking, "Why do we have to do this when we are citizens of the greatest country on earth? Why has the system failed us? Why do people not seem to care? Why do we have to choose between food and medicine, or between heat in the winter and medicine?
One man on this bus with severe medical problems said his prescriptions were $10,000 per year. His insurance would no longer cover it. He said he boarded a train in Tacoma at 5:50 a.m. which took him to King Street Station in Seattle. He then walked to the bus tunnel and boarded a bus to the transit station in Northgate and then transfered to a bus that took him to the Totem Pole in the Northgate Shopping Center. He arrived with 15 minutes to spare to get on the bus to Canada.
Then he had to reverse the trip to get back home late that night. He was certainly asking, "Why do I have to do this in America?" The "Why did he do it?" was reflected in his jubilation when he said he saved $600. He, along with other passengers, didn't want their names in the paper because they were afraid someone would stop them from being able to do this again, and they said this trip to Canada is their only hope to get their medications.
I cannot fully tell you the thankfulness these passengers were expressing on the trip back to Northgate.
Hazel Pownall is the classified ad manager for the Woodinville Weekly, Northlake News, Valley View, nwnews.com.