Manitoba is lifting the 30-day limit on prescription drug refills, saying supply issues surrounding COVID-19 have stabilized.
In March, Manitoba and other provincial and territorial governments restricted prescription refills to one month in response to potential global drug shortages. The novel coronavirus pandemic response measure caused many patients to pay higher dispensing fees than they normally would, and many have complained publicly.
Effective Monday, Manitobans who have prescriptions for long-term medications will be able to obtain up to a three-month supply, as per prescriber's directions, if the drug is not affected by shortages.
"At this time, the evidence is pointing to the fact that the situation has stabilized," Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Friday.
Manitoba is the third province to lift the cap on 30-day refills, after New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, according to the Canadian Association for Retired Persons.
"We are pleased to see Manitoba move in this direction, as well," spokesman Sean Fitch said from Toronto. "The initial justifications for this measure were fears over supply chain issues and hoarding due to COVID-19."
Such concerns seem to have lessened since provinces began reopening or preparing to reopen for business, he said.
"In reality, drug shortages existed before COVID, and will persist afterwards," said Fitch. "That a province has decided to lift the cap is likely due to pressure from consumers around the increased costs."
Since late March, the Manitoba Liberals have gone after the province to do something about the added dispensing fees. They're now calling on Premier Brian Pallister to issue refunds.
On Friday, the Liberals issued a statement saying some Manitobans faced double and triple dispensing fees, while others lost pharmacare support, resulting in thousands of dollars in extra costs.
"Pallister should stop being such a skinflint and do the right thing," said Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont.
Manitoba's decision to limit refills was in response to advice from the Canadian Pharmacists Association and the Canadian Association for Pharmacy Distribution Management, Friesen said. Another factor was March is typically a high-volume month in Manitoba for dispensing drugs, because it's the last month of the pharmacare fiscal year, he said.
"It has not been easy for all Manitobans to have to pay, in some cases, triple the dispensing fee for the same supply of drugs… and it wasn’t easy when, at the same time, we continued to tell people they should stay home, they should isolate themselves and avoid going to public places as much as possible," Friesen said.
The government is now more confident about the drug supply situation than it was a couple of months ago, he said.
"There’s a better understanding... We know that some manufacturers in China who had ceased or slowed production have come back on line, and we know that the global distribution issue has proven to be more intact than was previously expected."
The minister also announced the establishment of a COVID-19 drug shortage working group to monitor availability in the province. Only those listed in short supply on the federal government's drug shortages website will be subject to the one-month fill limit.
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
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Updated on Friday, May 8, 2020 at 3:26 PM CDT: write-thru with updates, additional quotes
9:26 PM: Corrects spelling of name.