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How about if your insurance company paid you $500 plus paid for a trip to Mexico? They will pay for lodging and transportation and even provide you with a driver. Sound too good to be true? If you are a Utah State employee or retiree it is part of your health plan. The reason, medical and pharmacy tourism saves enough money to pay for a free trip and still reduce healthcare costs.
When Michelle Fenner signed up to run this year's Los Angeles Marathon, it got her thinking: Tijuana, Mexico, is only a 2 1/2-hour drive from LA. Why not take a trip across the border and buy some insulin for her son?
"It's so easy to just go across the border," Fenner mused.
This idea had been in the back of Fenner's mind for a while. Her son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes nine years ago, meaning he needs daily injections of insulin to stay alive. The list price of the modern generation of insulin has skyrocketed since then. On one trip to the pharmacy last year, Fenner was told that a three-month supply of insulin would cost her $3,700.
That same supply would cost only about $600 in Mexico.
'Right to Shop' legislation
In Utah last year, the Public Employee Health Plan took this idea to a new level with its voluntary Pharmacy Tourism Program. For certain PEHP members who use any of 13 costly prescription medications — including the popular arthritis drug Humira — the insurer will foot the bill to fly the patient and a companion to San Diego, then drive them to a hospital in Tijuana, Mexico, to pick up a 90-day supply of medicine.
The program was part of a Right to Shop bill championed by health care economist and Utah state representative Norm Thurston in 2018. Thurston says there is not yet enough data to know how much in savings the program provides; the first patients traveled to Tijuana in December.
But, Thurston says, he expects that in the next six months, savings will likely be "in the ballpark of $1 million."