July 14, 2024

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Manulife-Loblaw deal sparks worry from Alberta advocates

3 min read

A local advocacy group is raising concerns about competition and patient access to specialized medicine.

This comes after Manulife announced its coverage of certain prescription drugs will only apply at Loblaw Pharmacies, such as Shoppers Drug Mart.

The move affects around 260 medications under Manulife’s specialty drug program that treat ailments such as rheumatoid arthrities, Crohn’s, multiple scleroris, and cancer.

Bradley Lafortune with Public Interest Alberta strongly believes that the move is limiting for Albertans, particularly for those who live in rural or remote areas who may not have the same easy access to different pharmacy chains.

“Places where you don’t necessarily have access to a Loblaws, that’s not really fair to the consumer and it’s not really fair to the pharmacist either. So, at the level of competition and competitive fairness and also consumer fairness, we’re really concerned about that access piece at both those levels.” he said.

“You want to make sure that patients across Alberta have the same access to the same affordable drugs, regardless of where they might be filling their prescriptions,” LaFortune explained.

Jody Shkrobot is a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Alberta, and says the deal puts smaller pharmacies at risk, since they can’t compete on a level playing field.

RELATED: Manulife-Loblaw deal to deliver specialty drugs sparks access, competition concerns

“It is disappointing when you see situations like this happen, especially when you know that you did not even have an opportunity to engage in those types of discussions or negotiations that go along with that,” he explained. “That’s certainly a disadvantage of being a smaller operator on that front.”

He says another big concern is how this type of deal impact the patient/pharmacy relationship and could force patients to move away out of their comfort zone to access affordable medication.

“My concern is the pharmacist, however, comes on the front of the patient aspect in terms of the relationship that that pharmacist has with their patients and it’s more than just a commodity or a drug that’s associated with that,” Shkrobot explained. “It’s more the care and the relationship that the pharmacist has to work with the patient to deal with things that are just outside the drug itself.”

Lafortune says access is also a significant concern, and Albertans should be able to get affordable prescriptions no matter where they live.

“Think about your grandmother, your mom or your dad, who just need to be able to go down to their corner pharmacy and be able pick up their drugs and make sure that they’re able to stay on their prescribed medication, rather than making it potentially a day trip larger centre where there’s a Loblaws — they should be able to do that at the corner pharmacy,” he said.

Shkrobot explains that the new deal produces a situation unfamiliar to Albertans and Canadians.

“A lot of Canadians are concerned with what we’re seeing with our colleagues to the south of us, in terms of the United States and this type of arrangement is something that’s more familiar in terms of the U.S. environment so I think there’s some concerns of how that competition could possibly lead to deviating from what Canadians and what Albertans expect from their healthcare system,” he said.


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