Prescription deal concerns minister
The Canadian Press - Jan 31, 2024 - Business Buzz

Photo: Angus Reid Institute

The federal minister in charge of promoting competition says he’s concerned about a deal between Manulife Financial Corp. and Loblaw Cos. Ltd. that restricts patients from filling prescriptions for specialty drugs at other pharmacies under their insurance plans.

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Wednesday the government is reviewing the arrangement, which affects around 260 medications meant to treat complex, chronic or life-threatening conditions.

Details were shared with plan holders earlier this month. Manulife said starting Jan. 22, the insurance company’s specialty drug care program would transition to being carried out “primarily” through Shoppers Drug Mart and other Loblaw-owned pharmacies.

It had previously also covered specialty drugs through national home and community health-care provider Bayshore HealthCare.

“They don’t get the message. We want more competition in this country,” Champagne told reporters. “We want more options. We want more choices, so that’s not going in the direction we want to see.”

The affected specialty drugs treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, multiple sclerosis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, cancer, osteoporosis and hepatitis C.

Champagne said he hopes the companies will “get the message that we should always strive for Canadians to have choices.”

A day earlier, NDP MPs Don Davies and Brian Masse penned a letter to Competition Commissioner Matthew Boswell requesting the Competition Bureau launch an investigation into the deal based on reporting by The Canadian Press.

They said the arrangement could have “serious impacts … on both access to medication and competition within the pharmacy sector.”

“Access to affordable prescription medications is already a major concern for Canadians,” the letter stated.

“It is particularly troubling that people with these chronic or life-threatening conditions will now have fewer options to access the medications they rely on, especially in rural and remote communities.”

The bureau did not immediately say whether it is looking into those concerns.

Manulife has said the shift to an exclusive agreement would give patients “more options” to receive their specialty medications, with patients able to pick up drugs from a Loblaw-owned store or have them delivered to their home.

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