Pharmacy policy experts have expressed concerns about the potential impact on competition and patient access to essential medications following a recent announcement by Manulife Financial Corp., according to The Canadian Press. The company has decided that its coverage for certain prescription drugs will now be exclusive to Loblaw Cos. Ltd. pharmacies.
This change, communicated to plan holders earlier this month, will reportedly affect approximately 260 medications under Manulife’s Specialty Drug Care program. These drugs are intended for the treatment of severe conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, cancer, osteoporosis, and hepatitis C.
Starting Jan. 22, Manulife will use Shoppers Drug Mart and other Loblaw-owned pharmacies for this program, shifting away from its previous partnership with national home and community health care provider Bayshore HealthCare, according to the Canadian Press (CP).
“At this time, to evolve our program, it’s appropriate to select a single service provider to move the program forward for the benefit of our customers and their employees,” said Doug Bryce, Manulife’s vice president of product and platforms, in an announcement, as reported by CP.
In an email, Steve Morgan, a health policy professor at the University of British Columbia, discussed a growing trend of exclusive deals between insurers and grocers, saying that insurers are “exercising market power in the pharmacy sector.” The result is a concern for smaller pharmacies, he says, and patients who may need more medical options.
Manulife spokeswoman Emily Vear said the new arrangement with Loblaw will offer more options to members, including home delivery and access to a dedicated team of healthcare professionals.
Catherine Thomas, a Loblaw spokeswoman, told the Canadian Press the patient’s experience with the new arrangement would be as good, if not better, than before, with more than 1,800 pharmacies in its network.
According to the Canadian Press, Bayshore HealthCare’s website says its Specialty Drug Care plan members could have their medication shipped to various locations but does not list pharmacy pickup options.
However, not all experts view these exclusive deals as detrimental to competition. Aidan Hollis, an economics professor at the University of Calgary, argued that Manulife’s strategy promotes competition among pharmacies.