Seniors urge province to lift the 30-day supply limit on prescription drugs

The rule is making some Manitobans pay more in drug dispensing fees — a strain they say they can’t afford.

Health minister says Manitoba is monitoring the situation and is considering lifting the restriction

The 30-day supply limit has been implemented in Manitoba since March 20, to prevent the stockpiling of medications during the pandemic. (Shutterstock)

An elderly couple from Virden, Man., is anxiously waiting for the provincial government to lift the 30-day supply limit on prescription drugs, saying the rule is making them pay triple in drug dispensing fees — something they just can't afford. 

The limit has been implemented since March 20, to prevent the stockpiling of medications during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure a continued supply.

Bob Didluck, 78, said he and his wife pay an annual deductible of $2,800 for prescription drugs and estimates two-thirds of the amount is spent on dispensing fees. 

And with the 30-day rule, that can potentially triple, he said. 

"Every three months rather than every month, we are looking at anywhere saving from … I'd be guessing $1,000, $2,000 per year, ball-parking it," Didluck said. 

Didluck said he and his wife are retired and can't afford to fork out that much money. 

"No one, nobody could afford to stock up on the drugs. Medicine is expensive enough already and that is the whole issue," he said. 

According to the Manitoba government website, approximately 97 per cent of dispensing fees on Pharmacare claims are less than $30. The remaining three per cent can exceed that amount and in some cases, cost beyond $900. 

Mary Didluck said she understands Manitoba needs to regulate the drug supply. 

"Well fine … don't give it to me all at once but don't charge me the dispensing fee on the other two [months]," she said. 

"For people that are on a fixed income … that is going to put it over the edge," she said. 

Province considering lifting restrictions

During the past week, the province mentioned it's considering lifting the restrictions. 

"That's definitely been a concern," said Premier Brian Pallister at a press conference on Thursday. 

"Initially there was a real fear that with the pandemic's impacts on supply or countries in particular, I guess we'd say China, India … that there might be real shortages of drugs and therefore this was the rationale for the limits," he said. 

Pallister said Health Minister Cameron Friesen will provide more information on Friday. 

Friesen also addressed the issue during a legislature session on Wednesday. 

The Ministry of Health says it recognizes the impact the one-month supply limit has had financially on seniors with chronic health conditions. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

"We are talking to other provinces and territories. We are sharing our concerns and we will continue to act in the best interests of Manitobans," he said. 

Manitoba Health said it's looking at several options. 

'The government recognizes the impact the one-month supply limit on prescription drugs has had on Manitobans financially, particularly seniors with chronic health conditions," an email statement from Friesen's press secretary wrote Wednesday. 

"While this decision was necessary we recognized it created hardship, but was required to prevent a global and domestic supply shortage," the statement reads. 

Not just seniors feeling the strain 

Bonnie McKissock, a banker in Winnipeg, said she also doesn't mind getting a 30-day supply instead of 90, but thinks it's unfair to have to pay the fees three times. 

McKissock says she's been paying triple in dispensing fees for her asthma medication. 

"Families, they need medications and their income may be affected with COVID. It would cause an unnecessary drain on their bank account," she said. 

McKissock pays $16.34 in dispensing fees for her asthma medication, which would amount to nearly $200 per year. 

"That's a plane ticket, a partial vacation or groceries," she said. "For one person, $200 a year wouldn't seem like anything but to another family, $200 a year is milk and bread on the table for people." 

Too soon to lift, says pharmacist

Carey Lai, a pharmacist in Winnipeg who owns Leila Pharmacy on Pembina Highway, said he believes it's too soon to lift the 30-day restriction. 

Lai said a lot of medication comes from outside of Canada and a shortage of supply can still occur if everyone was to get a three-month supply of the most common medication. 

"If we can't control the demand and put these limits in place we could really put many medications and all medications under critical shortage," Lai said. 

Lai believes the 30-day-limit should be lifted when the economy is fully running. 

Pharmacist Carey Lai says he believes now is too soon to lift the restriction, because a supply shortage can still occur. (CBC)

As for dispensing fees, he said a majority of Manitobans typically have them covered by their deductible for Pharmacare. 

For those with medication that's not covered by Pharmacare, Lai encourages them to talk to their physician and pharmacist for alternative solutions. 

"There are numerous compassionate programs, usually with a pharmaceutical company that allows for coverage," he said. 

"A lot of resources for clients who are facing financial crunches during the time of COVID."