Insurer's Drug Plan: We'll Pay You to Go to Mexico

Workers in Utah get cash incentive to buy cheaper drugs across the border
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 29, 2018 8:21 AM CDT
Insurer's Drug Plan: We'll Pay You to Go to Mexico
Southbound vehicles leave El Paso, Texas and enter Juarez, Mexico at the Bridge of the Americas in this file photo.   (Rudy Gutierrez/The El Paso Times via AP, File)

It's no secret that many prescription drugs are cheaper in Mexico than in the US—stories about "medical tourism" have been around for years, like this one in Pacific Standard. Now, however, a large health insurer in Utah has employed a novel approach to take advantage of the price discrepancy: PHEP is offering members a cash incentive to go to Mexico and buy the cheaper drugs, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. The insurer covers about 160,000 public employees and their families, and those who need certain drugs to treat cancer, MS, and autoimmune disorders can get free transportation plus a cash payout of $500 if they make the trip.

The story uses the example of the MS drug Avonex, which costs $6,700 for a 28-day supply in the US, but only $2,200 in Mexico. Even with the Mexico travel expenses figured in, it's a big cost saving. "Why wouldn’t we pay ... to go to San Diego, drive across to Mexico, and save the system tens of thousands of dollars?" says state Rep. Norman Thurston, sponsor of legislation calling for such incentives. "If it can be done safely, we should be all over that." Avonex is one of about a dozen drugs covered under the policy. (Amazon is apparently hoping to become another alternative for those seeking cheaper drug prices.)

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