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Manulife Reverses Policy, Opens Access to Specialty Medications at Any Pharmacy

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Ethan Sulliva
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Manulife Reverses Policy, Opens Access to Specialty Medications at Any Pharmacy

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In a significant turn of events, Manulife Financial Corp has reversed its policy, now allowing Canadians supported by Manulife who are on specialty medications to fill their prescriptions at any pharmacy they choose. This decision is a response to the widespread public backlash the company faced due to its exclusive arrangement with Loblaw Co. With this change, Manulife aims to offer more flexibility to Canadians in accessing specialty medications and mitigate the concerns raised about its impact on the healthcare and insurance landscape in Canada.

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Manulife's Policy Update: A Closer Look

As per the update on Manulife's Specialty Drug Care program, Canadians who take specialty medications to treat serious, chronic, and often life-threatening conditions can now fill their prescriptions at any pharmacy of their choice. This change will impact less than one per cent of Canadians that the company supports. The program will evolve to allow all members who take specialty medications to have their prescriptions filled at any pharmacy. In addition to this, home delivery will continue to be an option, ensuring that there is no impact on drug accessibility.

The Backlash and the Rollback

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Manulife's decision to roll back its policy comes after it faced backlash for signing an exclusive arrangement with Loblaw Co. The insurer's Specialty Drug Care program had been primarily delivered through Loblaw's Shoppers Drug Mart, sparking competition concerns within the pharmacy sector. However, Manulife Canada's CEO Naveed Irshad clarified that the change would impact only a small number of its members.

The policy affected around 260 specialty medications, transitioning its coverage to primarily be through Shoppers Drug Mart and other Loblaw owned pharmacies. The exclusive deal raised concerns about accessibility, especially for those in rural or remote regions. The Industry Minister and NDP MPs expressed concern and requested the Competition Bureau to launch an investigation. The issue underscored structural issues in private drug plans and the need for increased competition.

The Impact on Independent Pharmacies and Patients

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While the deal with Loblaw was set to provide more options for group benefits members to receive their specialty medications, it had potential negative implications for smaller, independent pharmacies. With the exclusive deal, prescriptions for specialty drugs could only be filled at Loblaw owned pharmacies, potentially hurting other pharmacies. This raised concerns about patient access and competition in the pharmacy sector.

Manulife's change of policy will have a phased application. For example, new claimants were required to use Loblaw owned pharmacies as of Jan 22. However, with the revised policy, patients needing specialty drugs can now choose the pharmacy that is most convenient for them, ensuring greater accessibility.

Looking Ahead

Manulife's decision marks a significant shift in its policy and is likely to have a broad impact on the healthcare and insurance landscape in Canada. It also reflects the need for insurance providers to consider the wider implications of exclusive agreements, especially when it comes to the accessibility of essential medications for patients. As Manulife moves ahead with this new policy, it will be crucial to monitor the impact on both patients and the pharmacy sector.

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