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.