Want to save money on prescriptions? Shop around
Filling prescriptions can be an unavoidable and sometimes expensive process but there is a way to make it easier on your bank account.
Part of the prescription’s price is the pharmacy‘s dispensing fee that varies depending on the business.
“Dispensing fees are set by each store and each store has their own formula on how they set the dispensing fees,” Ryan Chan, the pharmacist at the Exchange District Pharmacy said.
“The dispensing fee is used to cover the costs of rent, cover the costs of the staff, cover the cost of supplies, cover the cost of the operating expenses.”
The fee can range drastically depending on the pharmacy. Shoppers Drug Mart in Osborne Village said its dispensing fee is $14, the highest of big name pharmacies.
The least expensive is Costco. The east Winnipeg location’s dispensing fee is $4.49 and you do not need a store membership to use the pharmacy.
“It’s a service industry…prices are set according to the business factors including overhead and margins and what type of market they’re in,” Pharmacists Manitoba President Barret Procyshyn told Global News. “You may see a different fee in a rural, remote area versus being right in Winnipeg.”
Pharmacists Manitoba, the pharmacists’ association in the province, said the fees are used as a way to recover costs of other services provided by the pharmacist.
“If we’re doing a blood pressure check, a diabetes clinic, counseling a patient on how to use their inhaler, showing someone how to give insulin, that’s got to be included in the dispensing fee,” Procyshyn said.
He says the fees can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy for a number of reasons He added pharmacies are businesses and dispensing fees are one way to be profitable.
“In Manitoba we do not charge a mark-up on a medication, so we have no mark-up on any prescription products,” Procyshyn said. “We have costs set by the Manitoba formulary. So there’s that base cost and the dispensing fee has to include any profit margin for that pharmacy.”
If you have health benefits, the cost of dispensing fees are typically covered however some plans cap the amount.
Kim Milroy lives with both multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.
“I take about 15 pills plus a daily injection to keep my illnesses under control.”
The costs can add up fast, regardless of dispensing fees. Pharmacare comes in handy and Kim said there are other alternatives, like compassionate care programs wherein you can get sometimes get a discount if you tell your doctor you cannot afford the medication.
The government has been trying to make it easier for people by covering more pills with Pharmacare and capping dispensing fees at $30. It is estimated that will save taxpayers more than $10 million a year. There are also more generic versions of drugs coming on the market.
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While the changes are welcomed by Manitobans, some pharmacists feel the changes make it harder to do business.
“What happens is a lot of stores are compensating for those changes by increasing dispensing fees,” Chan said.
“There might be even more increases in the future.”
Procyshyn agrees there are challenges ahead for the industry, but there are ways to mitigate some of the problems pharmacists are facing.
“Pharmacists are a business people and we want to see a sustainable health care system, he said. “What we would like to see is some reinvestment into expanding our services.”
Procyshyn estimates the changes made by the Manitoba government will be costly.
“We’re forecasting about $100,000 in profits gone out of a pharmacy per year,” he said. “We want to be part of a solution in saving the health care system money, but we do think we have more to offer in front line services.”
He said other provinces have started covering the costs of some of some of the services provided by pharmacists.
“Things like comprehensive medication reviews are covered, providing a longer list of vaccinations, adapting prescriptions so you don’t have to talk to a doctor every time a change needs to be made and even continuing refills for a patient if they can’t see a doctor,”Procyshyn said. “If we were able to do that and the government was willing to look at that as an insured service it would be better for all Manitobans.”