Alberta snowbirds run into unexpected turbulence when filling prescriptions

Click to play video 'Alberta snowbirds face paying out of pocket for prescriptions due to COVID-19 restrictions' Alberta snowbirds face paying out of pocket for prescriptions due to COVID-19 restrictions
Some Alberta snowbirds are reporting not being able to get their prescriptions covered as they head south for the winter. Tomasia DaSilva explains why – Oct 15, 2020

Alberta snowbirds are reporting they’ve had their wings clipped when they’ve tried to refill their prescription medication.

Calgary senior Marti Young has been making the trip south to Arizona for 14 years. She’s never had a problem filling six-months-worth of prescriptions — until this year.

“The pharmacist said, ‘They’re not covering six months,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean they’re not covering six months?'” Young told Global News.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.'”

It was no joke as she found out from Alberta Blue Cross, which administers a number of programs on behalf of the Government of Alberta.

“Finally I got another person who said, ‘Oh you can’t get six months because of the travel advisories,'” Young added. “They don’t want people to leave the country so they’re only going to cover three months.”

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Alberta snowbird Marti Young in Arizona
Alberta snowbird Marti Young in Arizona. Ctsy: Marti Young

Watch: Canadian ‘Snowbirds’ flocking west for the winter

Drug dispensing policies during COVID-19

Drug supplies, across the country, have been continuously monitored since March due to concerns over supply shortages.

Alberta Health officials told Global news that on March 20, Alberta Health, the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association, the Alberta College of Pharmacy and Alberta Blue Cross jointly supported the guidance issued to Alberta pharmacies for prescription quantities to be limited to a maximum of a 30-day supply.

On June 15, the guidance was updated and pharmacists were advised they could once again dispense a 100-day supply, unless there was a shortage or a supply chain issue.

On Oct. 15, that guidance changed to let pharmacists again dispense quantities of more than 100 days.

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However, Alberta Health added pharmacists will “continue to use their professional judgment and dispense a limited supply if there is a drug shortage or a supply chain issue.”

Blue Cross pointed to those guidelines as to why Young wasn’t able to get her prescriptions all covered for the entire six months.

“At the time of the individual’s inquiry, (the) government-sponsored drug plan provided coverage for up to 100-days supply at a time,” Alberta Blue Cross manager of corporate communications Jaclyn Spurrell said in an email.

Spurrell added the decision didn’t have anything to do with travel advisories — federal or provincial.

“While non-essential travel outside the province is not recommended, the driver behind restrictions was to mitigate drug shortages,” she said.

Read more: Quarantine under the sun? Manitoba snowbirds have tough decisions to make this winter

Alberta snowbird Marti Young parties in Arizona
Alberta snowbird Marti Young parties in Arizona. Ctsy: Marti Young

Young maintained Blue Cross representatives told her that it had to do with federal travel advisories and restrictions — which she said made no sense.

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“My thing is I’m allowed to fly,” she said. “So why am I not allowed to get my prescriptions?”

Health Canada response

Global News reached out to Health Canada in an effort to find out whether federal travel advisories were a factor to in the province’s prescription limitations.

Global News was told “the practice of pharmacy is of provincial and territorial jurisdiction.”

Senior media relations advisor Maryse Durette said, “The Public Health Agency of Canada has issued: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Travel restrictions, exemptions and advice. That is for travellers to Canada (it does not mention prescriptions – just to have enough medication if you need to isolate/quarantine).”

Young ended up filling the prescriptions she could, and planned to ration the rest.

She also bought expensive and comprehensive travel insurance for her time abroad. She said she did not consider cancelling the trip, as it was her only chance to see her American sweetheart, whom she hasn’t seen in months.

“I figured I can get it (COVID) here, I can get it there, I can get it anywhere.”