SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4News) – A recent report in The Salt Lake Tribune showed the Utah insurance plan for state employees will pay for travel and offers incentives for people to buy certain prescription drugs in Mexico. One lawmaker is trying to import drugs from Canada to create more competition and drive prices down.
Rep. Norm Thurston (R-Provo) said the incentive came as a result of the Utah Legislature asking its insurer to offer incentives for state employees to shop around.
“I was so excited because finally, we’re getting some outside the box thinking that motivates consumers to look everywhere for lower cost health care,” said Rep. Thurston.
The offer is only for a small list of drugs, but they cost so much that insurers are willing to pay for the travel.
“We’re looking at drugs that are easily $50,000 or more a year. If you can save half of that, wow it sure pays for a lot of trips to San Diego,” said Rep. Thurston.
This doesn’t help deal with the high drug cost already in place. Erin Fox is the Director of Drug Information at University of Utah Health. She believes there’s one major factor to why drug prices are so high in the U.S.
“The simple answer is because they can be,” said Fox. “Drug companies are allowed to charge whatever they want. There are no price controls. There are no regulations.”
Fox notes these high prices can also lead to higher premiums for insurance. While there are generics on the market for some drugs. Fox notes that companies can use several loopholes to keep a patient from expiring and bringing a generic to the market.
Rep. Thurston proposed a bill to look into and start the process of allowing cheaper drugs to be shipped from Canada to Utah. Not only did the proposal die, but a group took out a full-page ad against him. The representative said he will try again during the next session.
“Why is insulin $600 in Utah and $60 in Canada?” said Rep. Thurston. “What’s the point of that other than just to make money for the drug companies.”
Fox said other countries have lower prices because they often negotiate for lower cost or have price controls in place. She said there are ways to save on prescription drugs now including asking your doctor and shopping around at different pharmacies.
“Talk to your pharmacist, talk to your doctor about, is there a lower cost therapy that could work just as well. In many cases there is,” said Fox.
Often times big retailers like Costco and Wal-Mart will have big discounts using their buying power.