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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier - Obama Says Drug Plan Could Save Seniors $157 Billion

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier - Obama Says Drug Plan Could Save Seniors $157 Billion

By Mike Glover

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama speculated Saturday that his prescription drug plan could save seniors on Medicare $157 billion over the next decade.

The potential saving is proof that the nation needs to change the Medicare system, he said.

"There is no reason for this other than the fact it makes the drug companies more money," said Obama. 'It's wrong that Americans have to spend more for their prescriptions because drug companies can spend billions on lobbying."

The prescription drug plan pushed by Obama would allow Medicare officials to bargain for lower prescription drugs prices, allow Americans to buy prescriptions from Canada and other developed countries where safe drugs are available and increase the use of generic drugs in public health programs like Medicare.

Like many of his rivals for the Democratic nomination, Obama has called for an end to laws restricting Medicare's ability to bargain with drug companies. The restrictions were added when Congress included a prescription drug benefit in the Medicare program.

At a series of appearances across Iowa, Obama cited a study conducted by his campaign that compared drug prices paid by Medicare to those for patients in the Veterans Affair system, those getting drugs from Canadian pharmacies and online pharmacy providers.

Obama, a first-term Illinois senator, said his study found that Iowa seniors on Medicare pay 71 percent more for prescription drugs than do VA patients and 47 percent more than those who get drugs at Canadian pharmacies.

If prices paid by patients in the Medicare system fell to the level paid by the VA, the government's cost would drop by $283 billion over the next 10 years, according to Obama's study. That's in addition to the savings seniors would realize.

"The drug and insurance industries spent $1 billion over the last decade on lobbying and campaign contributions, and so when the Medicare prescription drug bill came up a few years back, they found more than enough friends in Washington who were willing to do their bidding," Obama said.

Obama's study also examined some of the most popular prescriptions taken by seniors. The study claimed:

-The leading osteoporosis drug, Fosamax, is 3.5 times more expensive through Medicare than the VA - $939 for a year's supply, compared to $269.

-Purchasing Aricept, a leading Alzheimer's drug, through Medicare costs $862 more for a year's supply than if it were purchased through the VA.

Obama recently unveiled a health care proposal he said would significantly broaden coverage while also finding more than $2,000 in savings per person, largely through finding efficiencies in the system. Prescription drugs would be a key part of that, aides said.

Obama aides have estimated his health care plan would cost $50 billion to $65 billion. Much of the financing would come from ending previously approved tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year.

The prescription drug issue is especially important in Iowa, which has one of the nation's oldest populations. Seniors also are most likely to turn out for the state's leadoff precinct caucuses.

Officials note that roughly 317,000 Iowa seniors - more than 10 percent of the state's population of roughly 3 million - receive prescription drugs financed at least in part by Medicare.

Obama's study focused on the 10 drugs with the highest dollar sales to seniors in 2005. The study examined prices at major suppliers in four Iowa cities, Ames, Davenport, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

On Saturday, Obama began the day by discussing his faith at a convention of the United Church of Christ, where he argued that Democrats can't concede the issue of faith to Republicans. He spoke of his faith journey, talking of "my own spiritual dilemma" where he reconnected with church as a young man in Chicago.

"I get a sense that there's a hunger that's deeper than any particular issue," said Obama. "Something was missing from me. I submitted myself to his will. My journey is part of a larger journey."

Obama said his faith shapes the values he brings to politics.

"Doing the Lord's work is the thread that runs through our politics," said Obama. "At some point along the way faith stopped being used to bring us together and was used to drive us apart."

Later, down the road in Webster City, Obama mingled with more than 300 people at a city park, rolling up his sleeves to shake hand, sip lemonade and much on ham sandwiches and potato salad.

"This is my first trip to Webster City, but it won't be my last," said Obama. "People here take politics seriously."

He vowed to stick with a grassroots, down-home campaign style.

"Change in America doesn't take place from the top down, but from the bottom up," said Obama.

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