The coronavirus pandemic has restricted cross-border travel, but people looking for cheaper prescription drugs are still making the trip south. It's all because of high drug prices in the United States.
"The whole pharmaceutical industry is just crazy in the United states," said Muzetta Louise Priestly. "If you can save money by going to Mexico, why not?"
Priestly is from Spokane, Washington, and works for a company that is self-insured. She suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and her company found her medication is much cheaper in Mexico.
"All I have to do is get on an airplane and they take care of us from then on," said Priestly.
Her company pays for airfare to San Diego, her hotel, and the cost of the prescription. It has partnered with the company Medical Travel Options which takes care of a lot of the details involved.
"It's just too expensive here," said Curry Willix, the company's founder. "We look for opportunities for the health plans to save a minimum of 45%."
Her company works primarily with self-insured companies looking to save money on expensive prescriptions. She said some companies have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by flying their employees across the country.
One pharmacy involved in this process is Provide Rx Pharma. It has a contract with the state of Utah and commonly saves patients about 67% versus the price of medication in the U.S.
Willix said some of the most commonly sought prescriptions are for Humira, Enbrel, Stelara, Tecfidera, and Orencia.
"Knee replacement, hip replacement, we've seen general surgeries, hernia repair, bariatric procedures," said Willix. "You do have a choice, you don't have to stay here, you don't have to pay that price."
The pandemic forced Medical Travel Options to shut down for two months, but since then they've opened back up as an essential service.
"We've had to employ things like telemedicine for the visits with the international doctor and the visit to the pharmacy is literally less than 10 minutes," said Willix. "We're following local protocols, following the guidelines that are set by the local government as well as the CDC and World Health Organization."
The pandemic hasn't affected the price of the medications, but some clients are more hesitant to travel. Willix thinks more businesses might start looking at programs like this to find ways to cut costs because of the pandemic.
"When you go to countries like Mexico, especially in Tijuana, the locations are conducive to this," said Willix. "They get a huge load of traffic of people coming down for their services, based on proximity."
Anyone can purchase medication across the border and bring it back to the United States. However U.S. Customs and Border Protection says you are limited in how much you can bring back and are required to have a prescription.