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Manulife will cover specialty drugs filled at any pharmacy following backlash to Loblaw deal

Canadian insurance company Manulife has backtracked on a decision to only cover drugs filled at Loblaw-owned pharmacies, less than a week after the exclusivity deal was announced. (The Canadian Press/Illustration by CBC - image credit)
Canadian insurance company Manulife has backtracked on a decision to only cover drugs filled at Loblaw-owned pharmacies, less than a week after the exclusivity deal was announced. (The Canadian Press/Illustration by CBC - image credit)

Manulife will cover specialty drugs filled at any pharmacy, the insurance company said Monday, backtracking on its decision to only cover drugs filled at Loblaw-owned pharmacies less than a week after the exclusivity deal was announced.

The company said in a statement posted on its website that it was making the change so quickly because "feedback is deeply rooted in our company's long-standing history and culture."

"This decision ensures Canadians have choice, access and flexibility in managing their health," the website reads in the Q&A portion of its statement.

It added that the change will be made effective "swiftly" and that further updates will be posted to its website.

Members with specialty drug prescriptions can still receive their medications through Bayshore and Loblaw-owned pharmacies. Home delivery will still be an option.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Manulife pointed CBC News to the website statement.

'The people have spoken'

The initial deal first reported by The Canadian Press would have impacted around 260 medications under the insurance company's Specialty Drug Care program, which are meant to treat complex, chronic or life-threatening conditions.

It sparked backlash from customers, drug policy experts and independent pharmacists, who said the plan — known as a preferred pharmacy network arrangement — would degrade the quality of pharmaceutical care that patients receive.

"I believe the people have spoken, and this is a question of patient choice and respect for patients, autonomy and well-being," said Kyro Maseh, an independent pharmacist in Toronto, of news that the Manulife-Loblaw deal would be reversed.

"We should speak up against the Americanization of our health-care system here in Canada," he said.

Preferred pharmacy networks, in which an insurance company deals exclusively with one or several pharmacies in exchange for lower costs, are common in the U.S.

They are also gaining traction in Canada. Maseh added that the Manulife-Loblaw deal isn't an isolated incident.

"It is the case of insurance companies following a certain trend that we know for a fact only works for insurance providers and not the patients," he said.

Other experts who spoke with CBC News said the arrangement would benefit Canada's competition landscape and that patients would benefit from lower costs.