VALDOSTA -- In addition to receiving an update on the status of the primary care clinic the organization is opening next year at a meeting this week, members of the South Georgia Purchasing Alliance also heard a presentation on purchasing prescription medication from Canada.

Jim Railey, president of the SGPA, said, "We are moving forward with a dedicated primary care clinic, which was established as SGPA Family Care Center Inc. Our member companies will have access to the clinic, which is non-profit. We are simply hoping to break even on our operating costs."

The clinic is scheduled to open by March 1, 2004, in a location central to the member businesses of the organization, which negotiates health care contracts on behalf of their behalf. Members include Firstline Corporation, Regal Marine, Saft America, the City of Valdosta and Langdale Industries.

Railey said the committee, chaired by Charlie Felts, human resource director for the City of Valdosta, is currently looking for a suitable site and is interviewing an outside company interested in managing the facility.

Employees of the member businesses would be encouraged to use the facility, but not restricted to it.

Railey said among the benefits to the member companies would be the ability to control what specialists receive referrals and what hospitals employees are admitted to.

The Alliance recently signed a contract with South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta and Louis Smith Hospital in Lakeland following more than a year of negotiations. The two hospitals join Smith Northview in the provider network for the Alliance. In addition, Railey said 20 contracts have been signed with area physicians and more are pending, and he encouraged the members to help encourage physicians to participate.

Alliance members heard a presentation from Steve Graham, the owner of Airport Medical Clinic and the chief executive officer of Canadian Pharmacy Outlet Inc., concerning the purchase of prescription medication from Canada.

Graham, who also operates an indigent care clinic for migrant farm workers in Echols County, said there are a number of people who are either uninsured, underinsured or over the age of 65 with no pharmacy benefits. "These are the people who benefit the most from this program," he said.

Graham's company assists customers with placing orders for their prescription medication over the Internet with a pharmacy in Canada. He said Americans are benefiting from the strong exchange rate and on the cheaper prices charged in Canada for the same drugs dispensed in the U.S.

Graham said at this time, the practice is legal, and acknowledged that there are a number of companies that the Federal Drug Administration is closing down, but said they were doing illegal trafficking in narcotics. His company does not process prescriptions for narcotics.

Also, Graham pointed out that a number of drugs dispensed in the United States by American pharmaceutical companies are actually manufactured in other countries. He said there should be no concern about the quality of medications, as they are the same in both countries. "Canada has one of the highest drug approval and monitoring systems in the world."

He provided several illustrations of individuals who have saved hundreds and even thousands of dollars each year on their prescription medications by purchasing from Canadian pharmacies through his and other similar businesses.

"Customers can see a 30 to 80 percent savings on medications," he said.

To contact Business Editor Kay Harris, call 244-3400, ext. 280.

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