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Prescription drug access and affordability for senior citizens, the disabled and those without coverage should be a top priority for our elected officials.

As a senior citizen and chairman of Region 10, New York State Wide Senior Action Council, I believe that discussions on this topic have missed the point and focused solely on costs.

Seniors spend a huge amount of their incomes on out-of-pocket health-care costs. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry charges seniors who rely on these medications more than those who have some type of prescription-drug coverage.

With a $2 billion surplus in the state's coffers, the Legislature had a chance to offer seniors some prescription drug relief by expanding the state's EPIC program. But it chose not to. Similarly, Congress passed over $780 billion in tax cuts, but tells us that expanding Medicare to cover prescriptions would be too costly.

I find it disheartening that our political leaders, who all make a very nice salary and have health insurance with prescription-drug coverage that we all pay for, can defend their stance that prescription coverage for seniors is not affordable.

Quite the contrary, providing access to affordable prescriptions will save money by helping seniors manage illnesses that will prevent hospitalizations. And seniors will no longer be forced to choose between heating their homes, buying food or taking their medications.

Consider the following:

Seniors spend three times more than the non-elderly on prescriptions.

38 percent of seniors spend more than $1,000 on prescriptions each year.

By 2000, the average out-of-pocket cost for prescriptions for seniors will be $525 -- $800 if they have no coverage.

It is time for our leaders to stand behind their constituents, not behind the pharmaceutical industry, and provide some needed help.


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