COVID’s impact on drugs and drug plans

by | May 1, 2020 | Take 5 Articles

Current inventories of pharmaceuticals in Canada should last into the fall; however, Health Canada and pharmaceutical stakeholders are collaborating at unprecedented levels to manage and prevent shortages now and in the long term.

Stockpiling of maintenance medications during the early days of the pandemic doubled the number of back-ordered drugs in Canada in March, according to a recent article published by the TELUS HEALTH BENEFITS HUB. While these back orders do not necessarily translate into shortages at the pharmacy counter, plan members may experience delays in getting coverage as adjudicators source an alternate drug that is available.

In some cases, drug plans may be billed the cost of the brand-name drug if that’s the only drug available, even if the plan has a mandatory generic substitution policy in place. Drug plans may also see a tripling of costs for dispensing fees, as Health Canada and pharmacy regulators request—and in some provinces require—pharmacies to dispense 30-day supplies of maintenance drugs rather than the usual 90-day supplies.

Health Canada has singled out the shortage of asthma inhalers as a cause for concern. Not only are people with asthma and other lung conditions trying to stockpile personal supplies, but hospitals need more inhalers as a possible treatment for COVID-19 symptoms.


This article is part of The Benefits Alliance Take 5 for Health Benefits. Take 5 is a quarterly initiative that provides a deeper look a the employee benefits space by providing examples, research and case studies on what’s working for employers in Canada.