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Pharmacare can help with B.C. prescription costs amid COVID-19: health minister

Coronavirus outbreak: Fees for refilling B.C. prescription drugs
B.C. health officials Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix answer reporter Richard Zussman’s question about the rationale behind paying excess fees for refilling extra drug prescription during the pandemic.

Frustrations seem to be mounting for some British Columbians as the cost of refilling prescriptions during the novel coronavirus pandemic is hurting their bottom line.

“As a retired person on a fixed income, my budget will be adversely affected,” White Rock, B.C., resident Shelagh Bruhn told Global News in an email.

Patients with regular prescriptions typically get a three-month supply, but many pharmacies were only doling out 30 days of medicine at a time.

With these restrictions, patients were having to pay a pharmacy dispensing fee every time they filled their prescription, which is adding up.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Okanagan seniors voice concerns about hike in prescription costs

“I now have to pick up my prescriptions every 30 days, instead of every three months. This is counterintuitive, now that staying home as much as possible is recommended,” Bruhn added.

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But restrictions around the 30-day supply seem to be easing.

According to the BC Pharmacy Association, while many pharmacies have not yet seen a total easing of the distribution supply problems, the situation is balancing out and more normal orders are being received.

Therefore, where possible, pharmacists who now have adequate supplies are dispensing the full 90-day supply of medications patients would traditionally receive.

More British Columbians accessing Fair PharmaCare
More British Columbians accessing Fair PharmaCare

“It was a prudent measure that we needed to take across the country to ensure that we had appropriate supply for everybody,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said Wednesday.

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Some provinces have addressed the issue — Nova Scotia, for example — but B.C. says it is still working on a solution to help.

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Those who would be most affected by these extra costs would be people who make enough money that their deductible would be higher, but don’t have insurance and have suddenly lost some of their income.

In addition, it would affect seniors who also have a higher income but now have to pay more dispensing fees and that is affecting their financial stability.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said for those struggling with cost, the Pharmacare system is available to help.

“Obviously when there’s more payments you get to your deductible more quickly and get the reimbursement quickly,” Dix said, “so the net impact is something that we’re taking a look at and people in the pharmacy industry and a lot of seniors have expressed concerns because they have to renew a lot of prescriptions.”

READ MORE: B.C. reports 4 new COVID-19 deaths as cases at poultry plants climb

According to their website, Fair PharmaCare helps British Columbians with the cost of eligible prescription drugs and medical supplies. Eligible costs are the maximum amounts PharmaCare will cover for eligible prescription drugs, medical supplies, and related services such as dispensing fees.

PharmaCare sets a maximum price it will recognize for each drug. If the drug cost at the pharmacy claims exceeds this maximum price, the customer will pay the additional cost unless the Full Payment Policy applies.

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“It’s important to recognize that our Pharmacare system does provide protection, especially for the 60 per cent of seniors that have reached their deductible in the course of the year,” added Dix.

“Once they reach their deductibles, they’re getting either 70 per cent of reimbursement and then when they get to their family maximum, 100 per cent.

“With respect to other vulnerable people on income assistance and disability, they’re getting 100 per cent reimbursement from the beginning as do others in the B.C. society.”

Dix said they have heard from many people about their concerns with paying more for prescriptions, but he said as this pandemic happened early in the year, people have not yet reached their deductibles. However, they are working with Pharmacare to try and work out something for those who need it.

B.C. seniors voice concern about spike in prescription costs
B.C. seniors voice concern about spike in prescription costs