No prescription drug plan for 11 years

Yukoners are getting gouged when it comes to drug deals, say two separate government reports. The territory has a small number of pharmacies that…

Yukoners are getting gouged when it comes to drug deals, say two separate government reports.

The territory has a small number of pharmacies that work collaboratively, and “this makes it difficult to obtain competitive pricing,” according to the Yukon government’s recent health-care review.

“As a result, the Yukon has one of the highest markups in Canada.”

It doesn’t help that an agreement between the territorial government and the Pharmacy Society of Yukon expired more than 11 years ago, according to a May 18th Government Services audit.

“The pharmacies and the (Health) department continue to operate as if an agreement was in place,” says the 22-page audit.

“And under the terms of this agreement, the Yukon government is paying a higher markup rate on the cost of drugs than other jurisdictions.”

The agreement, which was responsible for providing “insured health services to eligible beneficiaries” and establishing how “these services would be charged to the government,” expired in May 1997 “and has never been renewed.”

In four years, from 2001 to 2005, Yukon drug program costs increased by 67 per cent. But new users grew by only 23 per cent during that period.

“I have no understanding of how prices are set, that is something owners deal with,” said Shopper’s Drug Mart pharmacist Laura Beattie.

But it costs a lot more to hire a pharmacist in the territory, she said.

Beattie, who used to work in BC, is getting paid “much more” in the territory — even compared to BC’s remote communities.

“Labour costs, the cost of bringing up stock — the cost of doing business is much more expensive than BC,” she said.

“So it’s very unfair to compare the Yukon to other jurisdictions.”

In terms of per-capita drug consumption, the territory is below the national average, according to the health-care review.

However, the Yukon government spends more on drugs than anywhere else in Canada, “well above the national average, and above Nunavut and almost twice that of the NWT,” it says.

Part of the problem is billing, said Beattie.

“An incredible amount of hours are spent every week doing intensive paperwork, billing the Yukon government (for everyone covered by its plans), because there is no online, real-time billing like virtually every other jurisdiction.”

And the markup on drugs in the territory is the markup it costs to do business here, she said.

“Pharmacy operating costs are higher in the North,” states the government health-care review. “They also experience difficulty recruiting and retaining trained staff.”

In BC, the higher markup is passed onto the patients, added Beattie.

“The BC government offloads prescription prices back to the consumers, whereas here, the vast majority of seniors get all their meds completely covered, and we have a great chronic-disease program.

“In BC you’d have to basically be on welfare before this would happen.”

“The Yukon government faces significant challenges in managing drug and other related health-care costs,” states the audit.

To manage these costs, the health-care review recommends introducing health-care premiums.

It also recommends charging a user fee for out-of-territory medical travel and increasing fees at long-term-care homes.

“Prescribed drugs are the leading cost escalator in the health-care system,” states the 260-page review.

The health-care review doesn’t mention the expired agreement with the Pharmacy Society of Yukon.

“I’m curious why they haven’t renewed it,” said Beattie.

“If it’s expired, but both parties keep adhering to it, then it must suit both parties.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at