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Seniors voice their concerns about prescription drug costs

by Gail Marsh

STAFF WRITER

Jeanie Bombardiere, a resident of Clarksburg Towers, a senior citizens' high rise, knows firsthand about the problems surrounding the high cost of prescription drugs.

"We just don't have enough money coming in to pay for our prescriptions. There's one lady in my building who is on oxygen, but she doesn't use it all the time because it runs up her electric bill. It's a real problem," Bombardiere said.

Nile White, a U.S. Marine retiree, agreed.

"Everything I get is free, but my wife is a retired school teacher. If she lives long enough, one day her cost of medicine will exceed her retirement check," he said.

Though Gov. Cecil Underwood recently unveiled a plan to help seniors with prescription costs, Democratic contender Bob Wise said his opponent's plan does not do enough to help state seniors.

Wise made a stop at the Harrison County Senior Center on Monday to talk with local residents about his plans to bring some relief to those most affected by spiraling prescription costs.

Wise said on average, state seniors pay 154 percent more out of pocket for their prescription medicines than do those who belong to health maintenance organizations (HMOs), possess medical insurance or work for the federal government.

"They are favored because they have a lot of people they can bargain for. If all of us go as a group to buy in bulk, they will have to negotiate with us," the congressman said.

Wise noted the top 10 pharmaceutical companies made more than $25 billion in profits last year and spent $1 billion on advertising.

These same companies sell their products in Canada and Mexico and charge about half the price or less than they do in the United States.

"If they can make a profit selling their medications in Canada and Mexico at a lower price, then they can make a profit selling here in West Virginia," he said.

Wise said Congress recently passed legislation that would allow Medicare Part B to help pay for prescription costs, but he would also like to see some help at the state level.

"As governor, I'll negotiate directly with the drug companies for lower rates, and I'll fight to make sure drug companies aren't charging more than they're charging customers in other countries," he said.

Wise said Underwood's plan would use between $6 million and $8 million in lottery revenues to hire workers to help seniors receive low-cost drugs. But the Democratic challenger said lottery funds are already earmarked for senior concerns, and he doesn't want to add to the current bureaucracy.

"I believe we can use the existing state government to bargain with drug companies. We don't need to hire additional workers, but can use the mechanisms that are already in place to help in the state," he said.

Also during his stop at the senior center, Wise announced Thomas Keeley, a Harrison County commissioner, will serve as his vice-chair for his election campaign.

"I don't think West Virginia can stand another four years of what we have had. We're dead last in too many economic indicators and we continue to lose population," Keeley said.

"I think Bob can provide the leadership needed right now to turn the state around," he said.

Staff writer Gail Marsh can be reached at 626-1447.

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