Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Beware of drugstore dispensing fees

  • Print

Ever wonder why we have so many pharmacies around Winnipeg? It seems as if there's a new one on every other street corner these days. Some of them seem to have found all sorts of ways of making canmoney from the unwary consumer.

Just last week, I went in to my local pharmacy with a prescription for a year's supply of a low-dose thyroid medication I've been taking since I was in high school. As usual, I asked my doctor for a prescription for one year's worth of pills. After all, I'm healthy, and don't need to visit her more than once a year to monitor this condition. It saves everyone time and money, right?

I've been doing this for several years now, stocking up with a yearly trip to the pharmacy instead of costing our health system repeat visits to the doctor for smaller prescriptions, and occupying her time, which could be spent seeing patients actually in need of her attention.

This year was a different story when I decided to try a new drugstore. I cordially handed over my prescription for a one-year supply of pills. Yes, I anticipated the usual sales pitch where they try to get you to buy your pills in one-month increments (thus charging you 12 "dispensing fees" instead of one). I was surprised when the pharmacist, a nice lady with a firm voice, had a new line: "No," she said, "I'm sorry, but the maximum I can give you is a three-month supply."

She made this sound like a law, like health policy written in stone. We debated this a bit and went back and forth. I even pointed out I was given a one-year supply last year at a competing pharmacy. Finally, she went away and came back with a final verdict: "No, we can only give you a three-month supply -- that is all pharmacare allows."

She assured me I could come back in three months for the next set of pills. Reluctantly, I agreed and paid my bill and left the store. It was only when I got home that I discovered I had paid the same dispensing fee for a three-month supply as I would have for a one-year supply. Turns out, it doesn't matter if you get 10, 100 or 365 pills -- the pharmacy charges the same fee for each visit.

In other words, pharmacies have every reason to encourage you to purchase a few pills at a time and to refill frequently.

Dispensing fees are not created equally, either. The dispensing-fee cost varies widely from pharmacy to pharmacy -- and all you have to do is phone and ask.

I did a random sample in my neighbourhood and found the Shoppers Drug Mart charges the highest dispensing fee at $13; Rexall was close at 11.99; Loblaw was $10.10, and even Walmart charged $9.97. Costco only charge $4.49 for dispensing.

Incidentally, I called Manitoba Health and asked if pharmacare puts any restrictions on how many pills a drugstore can dispense. Apparently there is a 100-day limit -- but it applies only if the payer (those paying for the medication) is pharmacare, and some insurance companies have a similar limit.

If you are the sole payer for your prescription drugs and you aren't expecting to be reimbursed for your drug purchase, you can fill a 1,000-tablet prescription at one time -- there's no limit. One has to wonder why insurers are sitting back and encouraging these extra dispensing charges to be billed. Why not allow those on long-term medications to have one-time annual fill-ups? (Of course, if you have a condition that requires regular monitoring or if the drugs are new for you, regular consultations with the doctor and pharmacist are a good thing).

It looks as if we need to become better consumers when buying our prescription drugs.

The bottom line: Call around and find out which pharmacy in your neighbourhood has the cheapest dispensing fee. And if they push you to take a supply, which would mean having to come back to them for repeated refills, simply say "no thanks."

Who needs extra trips to the doctor or the drugstore? Every time you pick up more pills, it helps fill the cash register at the pharmacy and empties your pocket. That pharmacy fee, which will be added on every time you come back, might be better spent elsewhere. After all, there are plenty of good new movies out there.


Noralou Roos is professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Manitoba and the co-founder of

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2013 A15


Updated on Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 10:45 AM CDT: Costco does not require membership to use their pharmacy.

12:48 PM: corrects typo

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets players discuss outcome of Game 3 and hopes for Game 4

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE APORIUS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS BUSINESS - cow on farm owned by cattle farmer Lloyd Buchanan near Argyle Wednesday afternoon -see Larry Kusch's story  January 04/2006
  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 090728 / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS White Pelicans belly up to the sushi bar Tuesday afternoon at Lockport. One of North America's largest birds is a common sight along the Red RIver and on Lake Winnipeg. Here the fight each other for fish near the base of Red RIver's control structure, giving human fisher's downstream a run for their money.

View More Gallery Photos


Do you think the Jets will win Game 4 on Wednesday?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google