Province urged to help seniors offset increased cost of prescription refills

A national advocacy group is calling on the Nova Scotia government to follow the lead of New Brunswick and P.E.I. by covering the added costs seniors are now facing because of restrictions on prescription refills.

All provinces or their regulatory bodies have implemented a 30-day refill policy in an effort to stabilize the country’s drug supply.

This means people who previously had a 90-day prescription and paid one dispensing fee now can only get 30 days of medication at a time, forcing them to pay the dispensing fee three times instead of one.

“We’ve had more specific questions around this than any other question around COVID-19, especially in Nova Scotia,” said Bill VanGorder, a Nova Scotia spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.

“Older adults are really upset and the government just doesn’t seem to get it,” he said.

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons has almost 10,000 members in the province, VanGorder said.

Pharmacies set dispensing fees

VanGorder said CARP understands the need for the policy, but it doesn’t understand the province’s refusal to cover additional costs for seniors who are part of Nova Scotia’s Seniors’ Pharmacare Program.  

He said his organization has written to the premier, health minister, the Department of Seniors and deputy ministers.

“They have done nothing except make excuses,” he said.

In Nova Scotia, each pharmacy sets its own dispensing fee.

In 2016, an Ontario company, Express Scripts Canada, published a report on prescription dispensing fees across the country. It showed Nova Scotia fees ranged from $4.49 to $12.99.

VanGorder said seniors typically have more than one prescription. For someone with three prescriptions, that amounts to six additional dispensing fees. 

‘They have to pay more sooner, so they’re out of pocket at the time when their fixed incomes or no incomes are really being affected,” he said.

VanGorder said he hasn’t seen Nova Scotia seniors this upset since the “pharmacare debacle,” referencing a 2016 plan by the government to raise senior pharmacare fees by $10 million.

At the time, there was such outrage the government was forced to walk back the proposal.

Additional fees unrealistic

CARP isn’t the only organization asking the province to take action this time around. 

‘We’ve been asking since the day this policy went into effect to have the government cover this,” said Allison Bodnar, the CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia. 

Bodnar noted that the governments of the other Atlantic provinces have taken steps to provide some form of relief.

The group asked the Nova Scotia government to cover dispensing fees for seniors pharmacare and other public prescription programs and work with private insurers to have them cover their clients.

Bodnar said in Nova Scotia, seniors in the pharmacare program pay 30 per cent of the co-pay up to a maximum of $380 per year.

She said it is unrealistic for people to expect pharmacies to absorb the additional dispensing fees, since pharmacists are doing three times the work.

“Every time a prescription is dispensed, a pharmacist must follow their standards of practice. They must check medical history, they must check for drug interactions and they must work with the drug plan,” Bodnar said.

Province’s next steps unclear

The Nova Scotia government did not directly answer a question about whether the province has any plan to cover dispensing fees for those in public pharmacare programs.

“We know that people are concerned about paying multiple dispensing fees where previously they paid only one and we’re especially concerned about low-income Nova Scotians impacted by this change,” government spokesperson Marla MacInnis said.

She noted the provincial government pays “the majority of the extra cost associated with additional dispensing fees in the pharmacare programs.

MacInnis said the government is continuing to assess the best ways to support people impacted by the pandemic.

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