Hospital CEO responds to criticism over dispensing-fee memo

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On Tuesday, Doppler Online reported that Muskoka Algonquin Health Care had sent a memo to staff suggesting Costco’s mail-order pharmacy as a low-cost option for filling their prescriptions. Response from the community – on social media and in comments to the original story – was swift and mostly critical of the move.

Comments to Doppler Online:

“I too am saddened and deeply disappointed with this decision by MAHC. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for years and during this time visited hundreds of pharmacies in the province. Our local pharmacies are very competitive with dispensing fees, knowledgeable, professional and provide a value-added service that an online pharmacy could never compete with. MAHC, in their haste to save a few dollars, has truly missed the bigger picture!” – Jody Cecile

It’s not just the impact that this will have on our local pharmacies. It impacts patients as well. This proposal takes away the patient’s opportunity to talk with a pharmacist who knows you, with whom you’re comfortable, who knows your history. I’d much rather pay an extra five bucks to have that peace of mind. – Ruby Truax

As someone who spent a lot of years building relationships with our business community in hopes of raising funds for our hospital; all I can say is “sigh”. This is a shortsighted move by MAHC. The administrators at MAHC know I have always been one of their biggest fans. Not this time. On this issue I stand with my old friends Bill Coon, Dana Murdy, Paul Whithead, AL Norton, Helen Luvison and the other fine pharmacists in Muskoka. Does Costco appear on our Donor Walls? I think not! – Debi Davis

Comments to Facebook

I totally agree with Bill Coon, I would be offended if I owned a local pharmacy. In my opinion MAHC should have informed local pharmacists/owners prior to “advising” their employees to keep benefit costs down by using an online pharmacy with low dispensing fees, like Costco.Jody Cecile, via facebook

Kris Hickey: And MAHC has a pharmacy inside the Hospital….why don’t they dispense for hospital employees free of charge….that would save even more money than online Costco prescriptions. …. Myself I wouldn’t buy medication this way…but what makes me scratch my head is if Costco can dispense meds for less than $4…how do Pharmacists justify an average of almost $11 ? Shopping locally is convenient but not always possible…sadly Huntsville is not competitive in prices as well as selection…..nice to keep dollars local but myself I’m more inclined to keep dollars in my pocket by shopping out of town and saving money. Sad but true.

Josephine McClelland: It is okay for all of Muskoka to support and donate to the hospitals in the area but now the MAHC has the affrontery to tell the staff of both the hospitals to bypass the local businesses I hope the people of our areas find out about this and start a campaign to stop donating to the MAHC and see how far you get and keep your high paying jobs. This is disgusting to treat local people in this fashion.

Karen Wright:  [quoting from the MAHC website]“Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) is committed to ongoing engagement with stakeholders that have a stake in, or will be impacted by the actions of the organization. In the interest of openness and transparency, and as an important member of the community, MAHC is committed to incorporating community participation into identified initiatives where appropriate that enables stakeholders to share relevant information with MAHC. MAHC’s 2015-18 Strategic Plan identifies “Engagement” as a core value, and more specifically defines our commitment to “working together with commitment, honesty and integrity.”  MAHC sure dropped the ball on this one.

Way to go MAHC in attempting to save dollars, tax dollars at that! It saddens me that people put them down for this. Really? What about the people that buy vehicles out of town, go clothes shopping out of town, or use Costco to grocery shop all to save money!!!! This is not a new idea, or a conspiracy. Local business need to start getting competitive. Perhaps a local pharmacy could or should come forward with a new rate or program to offer. It shouldn’t just be the responsibility of the consumer to shop local, the business should have a responsibility to be competitive and keep the consumer. That is all. Go MAHC.
Jeremy Alldred-Hughes, via facebook

MAHC’s reply

MAHC had been invited to comment on the memo and CEO Natalie Bubela sent the following written response today:

“MAHC continues to look for any opportunities to find cost savings without negatively impacting patient care to help balance our budget that year after year is under financial constraint. Information regarding the Costco Mail-Order Pharmacy option was brought forward to MAHC by our group benefits broker as an opportunity for the MAHC organization to save money on our drug plan costs as dispensing fees represent 15 to 20% of MAHC’s drug plan costs. The information about the Costco Mail-Order Pharmacy option was shared with staff by the Human Resources Dept. as education about an option that is available to staff members for maintenance medications. The information was shared for three reasons:

  • Some of the bargaining units at MAHC have benefit plans that are subject to a dispensing fee cap. Most dispensing fees locally exceed this cap and must be paid directly by the staff member, some of whom may not have the financial means to pay higher costs;
  • To educate staff about the impact of dispensing fee costs on the MAHC budget; and
  • To provide information about an alternative option.

The memo does not require or recommend staff use the Costco option. It educates them about an option that is available that they may not have been aware of, and we expect that staff will make their own informed decisions about where to fill their prescriptions. MAHC recognizes there is potential for the local pharmacy community to be impacted. However, sharing the information with staff was a business decision that has the potential to reduce costs to the organization that can be invested directly into patient care. MAHC has a fiscal responsibility to consider the best interests of the organization, which at times may not align with the financial models of independent business operations.”

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