Cities, Counties, and Schools Sidestep FDA Canadian Drug Crackdown, Saving Millions

Kaiser Health News, December 8, 2017

While the nation grapples with soaring prices of drugs, dozens of cities, counties and school districts across the country have quietly found a solution they say protects their budgets and saves workers money.

This article first appeared December 08, 2017 on Kaiser Health News.

By Phil Galewitz

Schenectady County, N.Y., is on track to pay 20 percent less on prescription drugs for its employees this year than in 2003.

Flagler County, Fla., expects to save nearly $200,000 in 2017 on brand-name medicines for its 800 workers, its total drug costs having fallen by 10 percent since last year.

Kokomo, Ind., has found a way to save so much money buying drugs that it offers employees a 90-day supply of dozens of popular brand-name medicines for free.

While the nation grapples with soaring prices of drugs, dozens of cities, counties and school districts across the country have quietly found a solution they say protects their budgets and saves workers money: They are helping their employees buy medicines from pharmacies in Canada and overseas, where prices are up to 80 percent cheaper.

“We love it … it’s a win-win for us and our employees,“ said Anita Stoker, benefits and wellness manager for Flagler County, on Florida’s northeastern coast, which in 2015 started offering its employees a program to get drugs from pharmacies in Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand.

The numbers are growing, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the practice of importing prescription drugs is illegal and is stepping up enforcement, with raids on stores that helped people order overseas, and even visiting some customers’ homes to collect evidence of illegal purchases.

So far, the FDA has made no move to shut down these employee benefit programs — a few dating back over a decade, but most far more recent.

Asked about its view of the programs, an agency spokeswoman said: “The FDA does not comment on its compliance or enforcement strategy regarding specific FDA-regulated products. When non-compliance with FDA regulations is found, the agency may take, and has taken, a variety of advisory, administrative and judicial actions depending on the violations identified.”

Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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