Medical Tourism' Encourages Utahns to Visit Mexico

Wednesday 07 November 2018 by Graciela Rojas
A prescription drug counter inNuevo Progreso, Mexico. A Utah insurance provider is providing travel to Mexico for some patients looking for cheaper prescriptions drugs. Charles In Utah, an insurance company is paying patients to travel to Mexico where their prescription drugs are cheaper.

PEHP Health and Benefits, which provides health insurance to the state's public employees, will fly patients who need certain prescriptions to San Diego and then transport them to Tijuana, Mexico, via private car. The company will then give the patient cash back so he or she can enjoy some of the money saved by their efforts, PEHP Managing Director Chet Loftis wrote in an email to U.S. News.

Loftis says the concept of incentivizing people to travel to another country for less expensive health care isn't new to the U.S. But it's just starting in Utah thanks to a bill passed this year (HB 19) requiring PEHP to provide a "cash back" incentive to those who travel for less-expensive prescriptions. And according to Loftis, employers are also benefiting from this medical tourism. The prescriptions included in PEHP's offer cost about $13,500 for a 90-day supply, he says. Even with the travel expenses and $500 cash back, Loftis claims the employer still saves between 40 percent and 60 percent.

"Why wouldn't we pay $300 to go to San Diego, drive across to Mexico and save the system tens of thousands of dollars?" said Republican state Rep. Norman Thurston, who sponsored HB 19. "If it can be done safely, we should be all over that," Thurston said, as reported by The Salt Lake Tribune. Loftis claims that some of these drugs will require patients to travel four times a year, meaning that they could earn $2,000. "We screen members to make sure that travel is appropriate and the program is completely voluntary," he notes.
"We look at this as a small way to help reduce costs for members and employer groups that is part of a larger effort of sharing savings back with members in concert with HB 19," Loftis says. A few of the drugs that qualify for Utah's pharmacy tourism benefit are Ampyra, used to treat multiple sclerosis, and Zytiga, used to treat prostate cancer. No eligible patients have taken the offer yet, but he says a few are "actively pursuing the opportunity."

But patients don't have to cross the border to earn cash back. If they can find their prescription for a lower cost somewhere in Utah, they will also be rewarded. Some medical services, such as colonoscopies, MRIs and CT scans and some inpatient stays, are also included in the cash-back offer, according to a press release issued Tuesday by PEHP.
The company offers an online tool where people can search for the cheapest services and medications.