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SARS virus delaying seniors' Canadian drug trips

Thursday, May 01, 2003

By Christopher Snowbeck, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

SARS is on the decline north of the border, but seniors have nonetheless decided to delay what are becoming annual trips to Canada in search of more affordable prescription medicines.

Local seniors working with the Alliance for Retired Americans had planned a three-day trip to buy medicines in Hamilton, Ontario for May 27-30.

But with all the concern about severe acute respiratory syndrome, the local trip and 16 other "Rx Express" bus rides from at least 10 states have been delayed by the alliance, a Washington D.C.-based group of union retirees.

The decision to delay the trips until late June or early July came Monday, just one day before the World Health Organization lifted its controversial advisory against nonessential travel to Toronto.

"We saw that they lifted that, but you're talking about people with chronic health issues," said Peggy Lewis, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Retired Americans. "It doesn't hurt us to wait awhile."

Jean Friday of Belle Vernon, the organizer of a bus group from Western Pennsylvania, said two seniors expressed concerns to her in recent weeks about making the trip while SARS cases were still being reported in Toronto. But the concerns weren't so great that the seniors wouldn't have gone, she said.

The national organization got similar input from other regions.

The World Health Organization lifted its advisory after determining probable SARS cases in Toronto had decreased.

Busing to Canada for medicines is an odd form of tourism, but one that persists as seniors struggle to pay for medicines and interest groups such as the Alliance for Retired Americans continue to push for legislation to make drugs more affordable. Rx Express trips carried more than 375 senior citizens to Canada last year.

Those seniors realized a combined savings of $126,711, an average of more than $300 per person. Since those prescriptions could be refilled by mail for up to a year, the groups' total savings could have surpassed $500,000.

Last year, seniors traveled an average of 277 miles while riding an average of 14 hours on Rx Express buses to purchase the medicines.

There were so many people for the two-day trip last year that seniors struggled to get their prescriptions filled, said Friday, the local organizer.

So, this year's trip -- the third she has helped organize from Pittsburgh in four years -- will be three days.

For more information, contact Jean Friday at 724-930-9848.

Christopher Snowbeck can be reached at csnowbeck@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.

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