Manulife revamps Loblaws deal following backlash

Benefits provider will once again cover specialty drugs at any pharmacy

Manulife revamps Loblaws deal following backlash

Manulife will cover speciality drugs at any pharmacy less than one week after announcing an exclusive deal with Loblaw Cos. Ltd., the company announced today.

The insurance provider previously informed patients that the specialty drug program would be carried out “primarily” through Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw-owned pharmacies, no longer operating through Manulife’s second provider Bayshore HealthCare.

This deal would have impacted around 260 medications under the insurance company's Specialty Drug Care program, which are meant to treat complex, chronic or life-threatening conditions. Customers of the Specialty Drug Care program consist of less than one per cent of Canadian’s the company supports, according to the press release.

However, following backlash from customers, drug policy experts and independent pharmacists, Manulife announced that Specialty Drug Care program members will be able to fill their prescriptions at any pharmacy of their choice, with home delivery continuing to be an option. This change will be rolled out “swiftly,” according to the press release.

“Our mission is: ‘Decisions Made Easier. Lives Made Better.’ To fulfill that, we have listened to and are addressing the concerns we have heard over the past week,” said Naveed Irshad, president and CEO of Manulife Canada. “Though this change impacts only a small number of our members, it helps ensure that all Canadians we support have choice, access, and flexibility in managing their health. We are proud to partner with thousands of pharmacies across the country and contribute to a strong and healthy Canadian healthcare system.”

Preferred pharmacy network receives backlash

Before the reversal, the federal minister in charge of promoting competition, Minister François-Philippe Champagne, expressed concern for the deal and said the government would review the arrangement, according to The Canadian Press.

“They don’t get the message. We want more competition in this country,” Champagne told reporters. “We want more options. We want more choices, so that’s not going in the direction we want to see.”

NDP MPs Don Davies and Brian Masse also wrote to Competition Commissioner Matthew Boswell requesting the Competition Bureau launch an investigation into the deal. They said the arrangement could have “serious impacts on both access to medication and competition within the pharmacy sector,” according to The Canadian Press.

The exclusive Loblaw deal is an example of a preferred pharmacy network, which allows an insurance company to deal exclusively with one or several pharmacies in exchange for lower costs.

Steve Morgan, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and an expert on pharmacare systems, told CBC that: "we don't know exactly how much of the savings that are generated get passed on to the consumer at the end of the day."


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