Some health care workers and pharmacists have been using discount cards to buy drugs and supplies from pharmacies, which they can sell at the store or on the street for a cheaper price than at the pharmacy.
The pharmacies are a popular source of drugs and other medical supplies in Canada, especially in the urban areas where the costs of treating patients can be much higher than in rural areas.
But some pharmacists and workers say they are not being paid enough to be able to compete with their local pharmacies and that the card is a waste of time.
“They’re taking away from us the most important part of our lives and they’re taking advantage of us,” said Sharon, a pharmacist in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The card, called a drug plan, allows a pharmacist to buy a medication at the pharmacist’s local pharmacy and then sell it to a person at home or a family member at a pharmacy near the pharmacist’s office.
The pharmacists say they were not paid for the drugs they bought and they are worried that their prices could go up.
“This is a great opportunity for me, I’m happy to work with the pharmacy, but I don’t know how much they’ll make me do,” said the pharmacontainer, who asked to be identified by his middle name.
The Health Canada database shows the number of prescriptions dispensed by pharmacists in Canada rose by more than 50 per cent between the first half of last year and the first quarter of this year, to 6.3 million.
That’s more than double the average annual growth of the industry, which has been growing at about 2 per cent annually.
A spokeswoman for Health Canada, which oversees the drug plans, said they are a way to help patients with chronic health conditions and help people who can’t afford to buy medications at a doctor’s office or other place of treatment.
“We know this is an important part in providing quality care and that there is no better way to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of Canadians,” said Jennifer McKeown in an email.
The drug plan is also available through some health care providers, but not all.
A Canadian Pharmacy Association spokesperson said some of the pharmacy plans are very limited and offer a lot of low-value products.
“There’s only a limited number of drug plans available and they have a lot fewer drugs available for each of them,” said Sarah Egan, a spokesperson for the association.
A spokesperson for Canada’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said the agency is looking into the issue.
“While we appreciate the need for more access to affordable drug plans for those who cannot afford them, we are currently in the process of reviewing the pharmacists’ and pharmacist groups’ access to these plans to determine whether these plans are appropriate for patients who cannot pay for medications at their own pharmacy,” said Jessica Ritchie.
“We are working closely with the pharmacy associations and pharmacare stakeholders to identify the most appropriate options.”
Health Canada has said it is working with the pharmacare group to determine if the plans are suitable for patients.
In an email, a spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical industry group, the Pharmacy Manufacturers of Canada, said there is nothing to suggest that pharmacare plans are being exploited by the pharmacy association.
“The pharmaceutical industry does not endorse, promote or encourage any pharmacy plan to be used for any other purpose other than to facilitate access to pharmacy services,” said a spokesperson.
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