DTES pharmacy wins interim order to re-enroll in B.C. PharmaCare plan

The Eastside Pharmacy had been taken off the provincial coverage program during a legal dispute with the province over more than $1 million worth of allegedly invalid claims.

Eastside Pharmacy is locked in a legal dispute with province over $1 million worth of invalid claims

The Eastside Pharmacy on Hastings Street has been in operation for over 25 years. (CBC)

A well known pharmacy on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, in a legal dispute with the province, won an interim order to re-enroll in PharmaCare, the B.C. provincial drug coverage plan.

The Eastside Pharmacy is often described as a "one of a kind" institution. For over 25 years, it has cared for highly vulnerable patients — many of whom are transient, suffer from drug addiction or are HIV positive.

Owner and pharmacist Alexander Tam has been praised for his service and care. In 2013, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his contributions to the Downtown Eastside.

Owner Alex Tam has received awards in recognition of his efforts in the Downtown Eastside. (CBC)

But in 2015, a government audit of the pharmacy found a large amount of backdating and administrative errors. It alleged the pharmacy had overbilled the government by $1.1 million during a two-year period, beginning Sept. 1, 2012.

The Ministry of Health removed Eastside Pharmacy from PharmaCare — the provincial drug coverage plan — on December 5, 2015. The pharmacy must also pay back the missing funds.

This meant the pharmacy wouldn't be reimbursed for any medicine it supplied to patients.

Tam and Eastside Pharmacy fought back, taking the Ministry of Health to court for a judicial review of its decisions.

Back on PharmaCare

With the matter still before the courts, the judge has ruled on an interim application.

The pharmacy argued it should not be cut from PharmaCare while it waits for a judicial review to be completed. 

The judge agreed.

Justice Kenneth Affleck said cutting the pharmacy off "its financial circumstances will continue to deteriorate and it risks insolvency. On the other hand, the [government] will suffer little if any inconvenience."

Affleck added the audit did not reveal dishonest conduct or malicious intent on behalf of the pharmacy.

"It is significant that there is nothing in the record to suggest the pharmacy has cheated the public purse," he wrote.

The judicial review is scheduled to begin again at the end of October.