Manitoba removes prescription limits set in March due to COVID-19
Group set up to determine which drugs will still be limited to 1-month supply
Manitoba is doing away with the one-month supply limit on prescription drugs that it set in place nearly two months ago.
Effective Monday, anyone with prescriptions for long-term medications will be able to fill up to a three-month supply, if the drug is not affected by shortages, Health Minister Cameron Friesen announced Friday.
WATCH | Cameron Friesen on removing limit:
The limits were initially set on March 19 to prevent the stockpiling of medications by people panicking due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure was part of a response to global drug shortages, intended to ensure a continued supply for everyone.
"While this decision to restrict prescription fills to one month was necessary, we have been monitoring carefully the consequences and recognize the impact this has had on many Manitobans," Friesen said.
The global and domestic drug supply appears more stable, making it the right time to remove the limits, he said.
"We see supply chains broadly not disrupted as much as previously thought, and we even see domestically that when it comes to distribution there seems to be more confidence."
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Friesen also announced the creation of a temporary COVID-19 drug shortage working group that will be made up of provincial officials, as well as representatives from Pharmacists Manitoba and the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba.
The group will be responsible for monitoring drug availability in the province. It will be able to make decisions about which drugs should continue to be dispensed in one-month allotments.
The group will be guided by Health Canada's list of drugs in short supply.
"Because we're taking a drug-by-drug, specific approach, what you may see is is notifications or updates given that certain drugs will be restricted," said Friesen.
"Right now we're seeing some drugs in shorter supply for people who have COPD or respiratory illnesses. We see some [shortage of] drugs that are necessary if you're on a ventilator or you're in an ICU.… So that supply needs to be safeguarded."
Pharmacists Manitoba is also asking people to not refill prescriptions more than 10 days before they need to, and not to request quantities in excess of 100 days' supply.
WATCH | Manitoba removes prescription limits set in March due to COVID-19:
Some pharmacists have said they would prefer the 30-day limit remain in place until the economy is fully running again.
Carey Lai, who owns Leila Pharmacy on Pembina Highway in Winnipeg, has said a lot of medication comes from outside Canada and a shortage could still occur if everyone were to get a three-month supply of the most common medication.
Friesen acknowledged there are still areas of concern, which is why the new group was created to monitor the situation.
"This is very much a balancing act and we're trying to get it right," he said.
"This is not to say that we're dismissing out of hand concerns about drug supply and drug shortages. Rather, we're shifting to an evidence-based approach."
No change in dispensing fees
Friday's announcement did not include mandating a reduction in dispensing fees, which some seniors have been calling for as well.
The prescription limit had been forcing some to pay triple what they usually pay in drug dispensing fees, because they get their needed drugs in three different batches as opposed to one three-month supply.
WATCH | Cameron Friesen on monitoring supply:
Asked why the province isn't requiring pharmacies to reduce that fee, Friesen pointed to the $200 rebate that all seniors are getting. Premier Brian Pallister announced the seniors economic recovery credit on Tuesday.
"We're not looking here to blow up the way the fees work for prescribing," Friesen said.
"I would suggest to you that during a global pandemic would not perhaps be the best time to make broad, sweeping policy changes to the way we do prescribing and the fees for that."
Friesen also said to minimize the financial pressures caused as a result of the 30-day policy, the government has frozen pharmacare rates at last year's level and people will see no increase to their pharmacare deductibles.
Anyone who has experienced a significant change in income can have their Manitoba Pharmacare Program deductible reviewed, Friesen said.
Individuals can estimate their income for the current year, which in turn will set a new deductible for that same year. Following the filing of income taxes for the current year, the projected income is then compared to the actual income and the difference is reconciled.
To have a Manitoba pharmacare deductible reviewed, anyone can call 204-786-7141 or 1-800-297-8099, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
WATCH | Full news conference with Cameron Friesen: