MAHC recommends staff use Costco Mail-Order Pharmacy, bypassing local businesses

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A recent memo to Muskoka Algonquin Health Care staff asked them to consider using the Costco Mail-Order Pharmacy as a cost-saving measure, an action that bypasses local pharmacists and takes dollars out of our community in the process.

“I was a little personally hurt when I read the memo,” said Bill Coon, a local pharmacist and owner of the Muskoka Medical Centre Pharmacy in the Huntsville Professional Building adjacent to the Huntsville Hospital. “The local pharmacies certainly support a number of the initiatives at the hospital and their associated charities. I felt the rug was pulled out from beneath us in that respect.”

The memo (reprinted in full at the end of this post) suggests that the savings gained by using a pharmacy with lower dispensing fees will help keep benefit plan costs down. Local pharmacy dispensing fees are between $9.48 and $12.91 according to a report published in January 2015. Costco’s dispensing fee is $3.89.

“Companies do this from time to time – pressure their staff to consider mail order pharmacies to reduce their costs,” said Coon. “But the savings are minimal compared to the value added by developing a relationship with your pharmacist. You can’t put a price on that.”

Your pharmacist will review the medications you’re already on and will ask you questions face-to-face about over-the-counter medications that may impact the prescription medications you are taking, said Coon.

Satvir Minhas, a registered pharmacy technician at the Costco pharmacy explained the process that someone would go through to receive a prescription from them. First, you would create profile online. Prescriptions from an existing pharmacy can be automatically transferred over; new prescriptions must be mailed in before they can be legally filled. Your doctor’s office can also send new prescriptions via fax. For a new prescription, a pharmacist will call a patient to verify whether they want a brand name or generic drug. Then the prescription is filled, which takes three to five business days, and it is shipped via expedited Canada Post. A signature is required on delivery. Drugs that require refrigeration or that are controlled substances cannot be shipped and would need to be filled at a local pharmacy.

“All prescriptions are labelled and contain instructions just as they would from a local pharmacy,” said Minhas. “A pharmacist will call for counselling if it’s a new prescription and patients can call if they have questions.” There is no contact for prescription refills unless initiated by the patient.

Cost-cutting measures like these are a common move by large corporations, but Bill Coon is surprised that MAHC didn’t contact local pharmacies first. “I wasn’t contacted to see if I could do anything,” he said. “Had I been contacted I would hope that a group of local pharmacists could have brokered a meeting with them to see if we could have worked something out.”

MAHC representatives had not responded to a request for comment by the time this article was posted.

UPDATE: Read MAHC CEO Natalie Bubela’s statement here.

The full MAHC memo read:

Dispensing fees at pharmacies represent a considerable portion of total Drug claims on our Benefits program, and can be managed by shopping around for competitive pharmacy dispensing fees. There are a number of great Pharmacy options with lower dispensing fees. It is important to use pharmacies with lower costs, as dispensing fees alone represent approximately  15-20% of Drug plan costs. Reducing these fees helps keep the MAHC Benefit plan costs manageable, including the portion that you pay monthly.

We are pleased to suggest an additional pharmacy option which is currently the lowest-cost option available for maintenance medications – the Costco Mail-Order Pharmacy.

  • No Costco Membership Required!
  • Low dispensing fee of $3.89 per prescription (our plan average currently is $10.48) and competitive drug mark-up charges.
  • Why Use a Mail Order Pharmacy for Maintenance Medications?
    • Convenience: Your medication delivered directly to your home or any address in Ontario you wish to designate
    • Easy Refill: Request prescription renewals and refills online, by phone or by mail.
    • Peace of Mind: You can privately consult an experienced pharmacist to answer your question and to help you safely manage your prescribed drugs.

You are welcome to find additional information or get started at www.costcopharmacy.ca or by calling 1-855-622-5656. Creating an account with a username and password is straight forward.

Check out the Frequently Asked Questions at https://www.costcopharmacy.ca/FAQ.aspx.

Huntsville Hospital

9 Comments

  1. This is nothing less than disgusting. If the Hospital had a problem with drug rates, they should have consulted local pharmacies first. Thank you Bill Coon for commenting and representing the local pharmacists with such grace. I trust that hospital staff, for whom the economy of Huntsville is important, will extend their middle finger to this proposal and continue to buy locally.

  2. I am saddened with the hospital decision to not even have a discussion with local pharmacies – we always emphasize to shop local, give your charity dollar to local initiatives and support all of our businesses. All of our pharmacist are local and give generously in this community. This is a slap in the face and the hospital that depends so much on local support should really rethink what they are losing by saving so little!!!

    • 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. I believe MAHC has a valid point. Why do dispensing fees have to be so high locally? My wife and I retired prior to age 65. During that period we had no private health insurance and the cost of medications to us was not insignificant. Because our income was fixed we chose the Costco option and our savings over several years was substantial.
    Now that we’re 65 and dispensing fees are standard we are happy to patronize a local pharmacy.
    I believe MAHC was responsibly trying to control their costs which we all eventually subsidize.

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