Many HMOs Reimburse for Prescription Medications Purchased Abroad
While UnitedHealth Group's recent announcement that it will cover drugs purchased abroad "made headlines," many large HMOs "quietly already pay for such drugs," Reuters/Boston Globe reports (Reuters/Boston Globe, 10/16). UnitedHealth recently sent a letter to 97,000 individuals who purchased health plans with a prescription drug benefit through AARP, stating that it will reimburse them for prescriptions filled in Canada and other foreign countries. UnitedHealth officials said that the letter does not represent a change in policy but was issued to "clarify a misunderstanding" about reimbursement for prescription drugs purchased abroad (California Healthline, 10/15). HMOs including Premera, Humana and Anthem also cover the cost of drugs purchased outside the United States, Reuters/Globe reports. "If the ingredient is FDA-approved, we'll honor the claim whether it is filled in Tacoma or Timbuktu," Scott Forslund, spokesperson for Washington state-based Premera Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said. Anthem has the same policy, spokesperson Sharon Larrimer said. According to the FDA, purchases of drugs from outside the United States are "exploding," even though it is illegal for U.S. residents to purchase prescription medications abroad, the Reuters/Globe reports. Importation of prescription drugs for personal use increased 450% in 1999, mostly from Internet sales, according to U.S. Customs. The FDA does not prosecute individuals who buy or order drugs from foreign pharmacies because it "does not have the resources to police them," Reuters/Globe reports (Reuters/Boston Globe, 10/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.