PORTLAND (AP) – A program that encourages city employees to order prescription drugs from Canada is saving the city and its workers tens of thousands of dollars.

Savings through the controversial Portland Meds program are on track to top $100,000 during the current fiscal year, which ends this June 30, said Janice Kimball, the city’s benefits manager.

That’s a minuscule amount in the city’s health care budget of more than $10 million, but the savings stand to grow as participation increases.

“From our perspective, every little bit helps,” said Kimball.

Portland Meds offers participants discounts of 30 percent to 80 percent on 250 drugs prescribed for chronic conditions. More than 100 employees and their dependents have signed onto the program since its inception last July.

To encourage participation, the city waives the 20 percent contribution that employees pay for drugs.

The products come from CanaRx, an Ontario-based mail order company that has drawn the ire of federal regulators for its stateside business.

Importing drugs from Canada is illegal, but the practice has become widely accepted as prescription drug prices rise. Dozens of cities and states have launched drug importation programs or are contemplating them.

The city is careful about characterizing its role in Portland Meds, stressing that it is the employees who fill out enrollment forms and send prescriptions to CanaRx. The city’s main job, it says, is informing employees about the program and covering their prescription costs.

So far, the program has saved roughly $25,000 for the city and $17,000 for employees.

Another 2,600 or so employees and their dependents are eligible for Portland Meds, but have not signed up.

Officials expect more people to enroll when the city, which is self-insured, switches its third-party administrator from Machigonne to Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maine in a cost-saving move.

Currently, the 20 percent coinsurance fee is applied to drugs across the board.

When the health plan changes Jan. 1, generic drugs still will come with a 20 percent fee, but brand-name drugs will require at least 25 percent coinsurance, said Gerald Cayer, director of the city’s Department of Health and Human Services.

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