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Drug Costs Hurt The Elderly

For America's senior citizens, rising drug costs may be the most potent issue on the campaign trail, CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts reports.

Some 17 million seniors on Medicare are finding that increases in drug costs they're not covered for are a prescription for financial hardship.

Al Gore says, "I think it is an outrage and a clear indictment of the situation we have in our country." And opponent Bill Bradley feels the situation is putting seniors in jeopardy.

While the candidates debate solutions to the issue, pensioners like Ruthmary Jeffrie are taking matters into their own hands: they're going to Canada. Jeffrie explains that when she goes to the pharmacy, "It's an extra $1,000 U.S. out of my money to buy in the U.S."

Congressman Bernard Sanders, I-VT, led Ruthmary and four of her friends across the border to Montreal -- where price controls keep the cost of Ruthmary's prescription for the anti-cancer drug Tamoxifen at a fraction of what it is back home.

According to Sanders, "You have elderly people who literally make the choice about whether they're gonna eat enough, whether they're going to heat their homes adequately, or whether they buy the prescription drugs they need."

There are several proposals to help seniors buy the drugs they can ill-afford to go without. President Clinton is pushing a plan to lower prescription costs through the bulk-buying power of Medicare. It's a plan the drug companies say is bad medicine for the industry's commitment to research and development.

Pharmaceutical lobbyist Alan Holmer thinks, "If you're looking for new cures for diseases like Alzheimer's or cancer or Parkinson's, the best hope for patients waiting for those cures is the American pharmaceutical industry."

The president says it's time for an industry that's enjoying record profits to stop crying poverty. "They owe it to seniors to get off this high horse and stop trying to beat this attempt to extend medical coverage to seniors for prescription drugs," he explains.

But unless there is some kind of compromise, for many seniors the local drugstore will remain in another country.