FiercePharmaPolitics—Utah flies employees to Mexico to save on drug costs

Utah has started sending em patients to Mexico in order to save on drug costs, according to a report. (Pexels/C. Cagnin)

Welcome to the FiercePharma political roundup, where each Monday we highlight developments in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that could affect how drugmakers operate. 

In a strange story that shows the lengths people will go to save on pharmaceuticals, Utah is paying for flights for a small number of public employees to Mexico to fill their drug prescriptions, Associated Press reports. One employee participating in the program regularly flies from Salt Lake City to San Diego, where a driver takes her to Tijuana so she can fill a prescription. Then, she travels home the same day. All of that travel still helps the state save versus having employees fill prescriptions in their home town.

It's the latest evidence that states are willing to get creative to fight drug prices amid years of inaction in Congress. States also have considered a number of measures to fight prices, including a subscription model, a pharmaceutical affordability board and more.

Elsewhere, with the Iowa caucus and President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech last week, pharma again found itself a popular target in national politics. 

Following the Iowa caucus, pharma should be on guard, Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal wrote in a note to clients. The two candidates who came out ahead in the pack—Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders—each spent more time attacking the industry than others. That could cause other candidates to get more aggressive with their drug pricing tone, he wrote. Still, tougher rhetoric doesn't guarantee any drug pricing changes this year.

Up next, Gal will be watching Trump’s positioning. With the eventual Democratic candidate expected to be aggressive on pharma, that’ll force Trump to either “go further or redefine the field,” Gal wrote. In the first strategy, the president would push for “quick implementation of populist measures,” such as importation or the international price index. Alternatively, he could “walk away” from the issue and play down drug price controls as socialist, according to the analyst. 

“The next couple of weeks will tell,” the analyst wrote. 

RELATED: Who's toughest on drug prices? Watch Trump and his 2020 challengers wrestle for the title

At the State of the Union speech last week, Trump called on lawmakers to "get a bill to my desk" for a signature, USA Today reports. But as market watchers know by now, it remains unclear what such a drug bill would contain, or when it could be expected.

In response to Trump's statement, House Democrats chanted “HR 3," referencing the aggressive pricing proposal passed in that chamber that calls for government price negotiations, an international pricing index, fines for drugmakers who refuse to negotiate and more. Pharma prefers the Senate Finance Committee bill, which would set an out-of-pocket cap for patients and force new rebates on drugmakers for high price hikes.

RELATED: House to vote on Pelosi plan as GOP trots out rival bill

Meanwhile, GoodRx has published the final tally of January price hikes. In all, more than 100 manufacturers raised the prices on 619 medicines last month. The average list price increase was 5.2%. 

That compares with 601 increases in January 2019 at an average of 5.8%. In January 2018, the industry was even more aggressive, raising 729 prices at an average of 7.7%.