Wall Street Journal Examines Practice of Going to Mexico for Cheaper Prescription Drugs
While the FDA would prefer that if U.S. residents purchase prescription drugs abroad they do so from Canadian pharmacies, many people are going to Mexico for cheaper medications, the Wall Street Journal reports. A majority of the drugs sold there are generic, cheaper than those in the United States and available over the counter. Mexican pharmacies also sell brand-name drugs. Traditionally, smaller independent Mexican pharmacies have dealt with U.S. residents; however, publicly listed Mexican pharmacies are "beefing up their border-store networks" and "beginning to target U.S. consumers systematically." Farmacias Benavides, Mexico's largest pharmacy chain, now derives about 20%, or $100 million, of its operating income from its pharmacies along the U.S.-Mexican border, according to Victor Trevino, Benavides' director of strategic planning.
Arizona, the border state with the most U.S. retirees, has a "thriving informal trade in Mexican pharmaceuticals," the Journal reports. As many as half of Tucson's 50,000 retirees go to Mexico once a month to buy drugs, according to George Wimberly, head of AARP's Tucson office. Tucson-based Prescription RX-Express runs a weekly bus service to a pharmacy in Nogales, Sonora, with a U.S. pharmacist on board as a consultant, and has a mail-order service with the same pharmacy. "We do about 100 orders a week, but we don't do any orders without a prescription," Ron Swager, Prescription RX-Express' founder, said. While most health insurers and HMOs are hesitant to reimburse members for drug purchases made in Mexico, Access Baja, an HMO plan offered by Blue Shield of California, will cover the cost of medicines purchased at 24 designated pharmacies. The plan covers medical services provided both in Mexico and the United States, mainly for Mexicans who commute to the United States for work. U.S. citizens also can purchase the coverage if they wish to travel to Mexico for medical services, including filling prescriptions (Millman, Wall Street Journal, 10/24).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.