Utah cuts healthcare costs by flying employees to Mexico for prescriptions

Utahs plan lets people collect medications at a fraction of the US cost, while other states are looking to import drugs from Canada

A health insurer in Utah is seeking to reduce prescription drug costs by flying state employees to Mexico, where they can collect medications at a fraction of the US cost.

The year-old programme involves about 10 state employees. The cost savings are so large that the insurance program can pay for each patients flight, give them a $500-per-trip bonus and still save tens of thousands of dollars.

One participant, Ann Lovell, a 62-year-old teacher, said she had saved as much as $2,400 by travelling from Salt Lake City to San Diego and then crossing the border, in order to refill a prescription for arthritis medication.

This is the drug that keeps me functioning, working, she told the Associated Press. I think if I wasnt on this drug … Id be on disability rather than living my normal life. Lovells story was first reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.

Other states are seeking to bring down medical costs for state employees. California is reportedly looking at launching its own generic-drug label while Louisiana has negotiated a deal to pay a flat fee for Hepatitis C drugs rather than pay for each prescription.

Four states, including Florida, are looking at Trump administration proposals to allow states to import drugs from Canada.

The Utah programme was created under a 2018 law dubbed right to shop. It lists a dozen medications, though only 400 of the states 160,000 public employees are eligible to participate.

To guard against counterfeiting, Utah officials track the medications from manufacturer to pharmacy to patient. A representative from a speciality pharmacy, Provide Rx, escorts patients across the border.

Utah estimates it has saved about $225,000 in a year. Lovell alone has saved the state roughly half the $62,000 US list price of her Enbrel prescription.

The Republican state representative Norm Thurston, author of the right to shop bill, estimates the program could save the state $1m if more people sign up.

It makes sense for us to do this, said Chet Loftis, the Utah public employees health program managing director.

Support for cross-border prescription drug purchasing, or pharmaceutical tourism, is a rare instance where political ideologies meet.

The Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has taken bus trips with patients from border states into Canada to highlight the cost of prescription drugs.

It is unfortunate and, in fact, wrong that the citizens of this great country have to travel to other countries to get drugs they need at affordable prices, Sanders said.

According to a report by House Democrats last year, in 2016 the US spent $457bn on retail and non-retail drugs, with Medicare spending accounting for nearly $130bn of that. Such spending, the reported estimated, had grown 27% over the previous five years.

The study also cited a 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation poll that found that 79% of Americans believe the costs of prescription drugs are unreasonable and 26% are worried they cannot afford the prescription drugs they need.

A Kaiser study published in 2016 found that 8% of Americans had purchased prescription drugs outside the US. Federal surveys have estimated between 150,000 and 320,000 Americans each year identify healthcare as their reason for traveling abroad.

Advocates for cheaper medications argue that pricing should not undercut the importance of US regulations.

It is a Band-Aid for people who really need it, said Peter Maybarduk of the not-for-profit advocacy group Public Citizen. We need reform of the system as whole.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/11/utah-cuts-healthcare-costs-flying-employees-mexico-prescription-drugs

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