To manage Canada’s drug supply in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments, along with pharmacists’ associations and regulators, have recommended that pharmacists limit the dispensing of prescription medication to a month’s supply. While this measure is effective in ensuring everyone has access to the medications they need, it creates additional costs and challenges for some Canadians.
A letter from Federal Retirees president Jean-Guy Soulière was sent out in early April to all federal, provincial and territorial health and seniors ministers urging them to address the repercussions prescription dispensing limits will have on Canadians, especially our most vulnerable populations.
April 3, 2020
The National Association of Federal Retirees is the largest advocacy organization representing active and retired members of the federal public service, Canadian Armed Forces, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and retired federally appointed judges, as well as their spouses and survivors.
With 176,000 members nationally, including more than 60,000 veterans and their families, the Association has been advocating for improvements to the financial security, health and well-being of our members and all Canadians for more than 50 years.
Federal Retirees is concerned with the unintended financial impacts that will be felt by some Canadians, due to the measures governments, as well as pharmacists’ associations and regulators, have implemented to manage Canada’s drug supply in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The recommendation to pharmacists to limit the dispensing of prescription medication to a month’s supply, while effective in ensuring everyone has access to the medications they need, creates additional costs for several Canadians. Dispensing prescriptions month-by-month for patients who normally have prescriptions for longer lengths of time means they will be required to pay additional dispensing fees. While some of these fees may be covered by public and private insurance plans, the rest of the cost is absorbed by the patient.
For Canadians aged 65 and older, these costs add up quickly given that 66 per cent of them take five or more medications. Many older Canadians live on a fixed- and/or low-income, meaning they do not have the means to pay these additional dispensing fees. For those who may still be working, some have been laid off or have had their hours reduced, further straining their finances. Older Canadians also tend to have weaker immune systems and often live with chronic and underlying conditions, making them more susceptible to COVID-19 and complications from the virus. This is no time for older Canadians and vulnerable individuals to have to decide between paying for medications or other necessities. We have already heard from several of our members that they or someone they know are unsure how they will pay for their medications over the coming months in light of these new measures.
Some provincial and territorial governments have implemented supports to help reduce the impact additional dispensing fee costs will have on individuals, such as eliminating public drug plan co-payments for the second and third fill of a prescription. While these measures are laudable, more needs to be done to support all Canadians and not only those benefiting from public drug plans. These measures also need to be applied across all jurisdictions.
We understand that dispensing fees are an important source of revenue for pharmacies. We are also aware that not all pharmacies are charging multiple dispensing fees. Some are simply charging dispensing fees for the first 30-day supply of a 90-day prescription. However, this is being done at the discretion of the pharmacies and is not being applied universally or uniformly. We are looking to governments at all levels to identify and implement comprehensive relief measures to help all individuals who will face higher dispensing fee costs as a result of dispensing limits.
Additional actions governments could take to further support and protect our most vulnerable populations include allowing early refills or improved coordination of refills so that individuals who take multiple medications can fill all their prescriptions at once. This would ensure older Canadians and vulnerable individuals who must go to a pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions can limit their visits to once a month.
We respectfully request that your office review these matters and encourage your government to consider implementing measures to address the financial repercussions prescription dispensing limits will have on Canadians, especially our most vulnerable populations. We have written to your provincial and territorial counterparts asking them to do the same.
President, National Association of Federal Retirees