DAVE & DUJANOVIC

Utah offers to pay public employees to fill their prescriptions in Mexico

Oct 29, 2018, 2:03 PM
File photo showing the path to the Mexican border. (AP Photo/Matt York)...
File photo showing the path to the Mexican border. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

With drug prices in the United States soaring far higher than its neighbors, one insurance provider has a unique idea to keep those costs down. They’re offering free transportation and a cash payout of $500 to any customers who will fill their prescriptions in Tijuana, Mexico.

It’s called the “Pharmacy Tourism Program”, a plan to cut down on medication costs by encouraging Utahns to take their business out of the United States. And it’s being offered by PEHP: the official medical insurance provider for Utah’s public employees.

The Pharmacy Tourism Program

PEHP Pharmacy Tourism Program

An advertisement for PEHP’s Pharmacy Tourism Program. (PEHP / Twitter)

The Pharmacy Tourism Program isn’t an entirely new idea. PEHP has been offering free airfare for any members willing to fly out of the country to get medical operations and prescriptions for some time now. This is just the first time that they’ve actually offered to pay them to do it.

Any PEHP member in need of one of the 13 high-cost drugs approved on the plan will be flown out to San Diego, driven through the border into Mexico, and brought right to a high-end pharmacy in Tijuana to pick up their medication.

Customers are allowed filling up to 90-days worth of prescriptions per visit, meaning they’ll have to make the trip about four times a year. But PEHP is hoping that, to their clients, the trip to Tijuana will seem like a free vacation – especially since they’re offering $500 to anyone who’ll make the trip.

It isn’t cheap to fly to Mexico, but the same drugs are so much more expensive in the United States that it actually costs less money to travel across the border than it does to fill your prescription at the pharmacy next door.

A three-month supply of the most expensive drug on their plan, Avenox, costs over $20,000 in the United States, but only about $6,600 in a clinic in Tijuana. That means that PEHP can save more than $13,000 when they send their customers to fill their prescriptions in Mexico – far more than the cost of airfare.

Taking advantage of the program is profitable for the members, too. If a PEHP client were to make use of every Pharmacy Tourism incentive PEHP offers, they could bring in as much as $3,900 in cash rewards each year.

Utah’s solution to rising drug costs

File photo of Rep. Norm Thurston, the lawmaker who passed the bill encouraging PEHP to reward customers for finding a cheaper provider. (Ravell Call, KSL, File)

The Pharmacy Tourism Program isn’t something PEHP snuck by the legislature. It’s something they’ve been actively encouraged to introduce through a bill passed in March of this year.

The “Health Insurance Right To Shop” bill, sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston and Sen. Todd Weiler, explicitly requires Utah’s Public Employee’s benefit and Insurance Program to offer a “savings reward” program to customers who take their business to cheaper providers.

But the cheapest providers aren’t in the United State. They’re in other countries, where the costs of some prescription drugs are far, far lower than they are in the US.

Rep. Norm Thurston believes that the Pharmacy Tourism Program perfectly follows the spirit of his bill and has praised PEHP’s plan, saying:

“Why wouldn’t we pay $300 to go to San Diego, drive across to Mexico, and save the system tens of thousands of dollars? If it can be done safely, we should be all over that.”

He doesn’t plan on stopping there, either. Rep. Thurston has told Deseret News that he plans on pushing another bill in January that will encourage providers to import certain prescription medicines in from Canada.

It may seem strange for a Utah lawmaker to be pushing so hard to get Utahns to buy their medication from outside of the United States, but to Thurston, the issue seems simple.

“We’re paying more for drugs in the U.S. than they are in other countries,” he says. Until that changes, bringing those medications in other countries into Utah is just an effective way to save Utahns money.

More to the story

When Dave & Dujanovic talked about this story on KSL Newsradio, Debbie Dujanovic revealed that she’s crossed the border to Mexico for prescriptions herself.

If you missed hearing what she had to say, you can still hear her story on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on Google Play Music

Today’s Top Stories

Dave & Dujanovic

A motorist drives through the snow in Olympus Cove in Salt Lake County. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret...
Curt Gresseth

Be Ready Utah: What you need in your emergency winter car kit

After a significant snowfall in northern Utah, are you prepared for a winter emergency while on the roads? Wade Mathews of Utah Division of Emergency Management -- Be Ready Utah joins the shows to give out holidays tips on being prepared for any challenges while driving.
2 days ago
Thanksgiving dinner with all the sides. (Stock photo)...
Alejandro Lucero

Pass the stuffing not the uncomfortable conversation this Thanksgiving

Dave and Dujanovic spoke with an expert who will help you void the gobble-squabble around the dinner table this Thanksgiving.
8 days ago
COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO - NOVEMBER 20: People hold a vigil at a makeshift memorial near the Club...
Curt Gresseth

‘I trained for this,’ says veteran who took down gunman at nightclub

A veteran joins the show to provide insight into the actions of another veteran who limited the loss of life at a Colorado nightclub by subduing the gunman until police arrived on scene.
9 days ago
Rioters at the US Capitol...
Curt Gresseth

Utah bill would limit police access to your cellphone data

A spokesman for a a libertarian think tank in Utah discusses why he supports a bill at the Legislature limiting law enforcement access to the cellphone of a person near a crime scene.
10 days ago
rollercoaster lagoon...
Curt Gresseth

Lagoon spokesman explains big price hike for day pass

Lagoon announces Primordial, a new one-of-a-kind interactive rollercoaster, coming in 2023, but with the new ride comes higher season passes.
13 days ago
Police provided an update but added little new information about four University of Idaho students ...
Curt Gresseth

Police stay quiet after quadruple homicide in Idaho

A killer is on the loose, police in Moscow, Idaho, are tight-lipped and a community is on edge after four university students were found slain Saturday.
14 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Utah offers to pay public employees to fill their prescriptions in Mexico