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How to Save on Prescription Fees Even if You Have Coverage

For many Canadians, prescription drug costs are a part of daily life. From asthma and diabetes to mental health, the price of prescription medication can quickly get out of hand – especially if you don’t have sufficient coverage. While your monthly prescription bill seems like a fixed cost, that’s not the case.

The price of medication may be federally regulated, but that doesn’t mean shopping around for the right pharmacy is futile. While driving half-way across the city will not get you lower prices on prescription drugs, it can save you money on pharmacy dispensing fees, which you pay every time you buy prescription drugs.

While most (about 97% according to the Government of Manitoba) dispensing fees end up below $30, some can climb up to, or even exceed $900. Changing pharmacies will rarely save you $900, but even a few dollars a month, spread over many years, will save you a significant amount of money.

But before you go out to find a cheaper pharmacy, you need to know what these fees are, how they’re calculated and how you can save money. 

What are pharmacy dispensing fees?

In Manitoba, drug prices are set by the government, which doesn’t allow pharmacies to mark up drugs, or make a profit on them in any way. Instead, pharmacies charge dispensing fees every time a customer utilizes their services to ensure they bring in a profit.

Unlike prescription drug costs, these fees are not regulated in any way. This means, they vary based on both the pharmacy you use and the services you require. 

Most dispensing fees are somewhere between $5 to $10 dollars, but different pharmacies get to that number in different ways. Depending on your pharmacy, the fees can be charged as a flat fee per transaction, or as a percentage of the drugs dispensed. 

Along with the dispensing fee, pharmacies may also charge out a compounding fee, or a sterile compounding fee. These fees are charged if the pharmacist is required to mix two or more medications together to meet the special needs of a patient. If the drugs in the compound require a sterile environment during compounding, this creates extra steps for the pharmacist and thus raises fees.

Does my insurance cover dispensing fees?

Recently, the government of Manitoba capped the Pharmacare coverage of pharmacy dispensing fees at $30. The government also covers an extra $30 for compounding fees and $60 for sterile compounding fees.

However, if a pharmacy charges a rate higher than Pharmacare covers, the excess is charged to the patient. So, if you’re on Pharmacare and your pharmacy charges a $35 dispensing fee, it’s up to you to foot that extra $5.

For those who purchase private coverage, check your policy to see if you’re covered, and how much is covered.

How  to save on dispensing fees

Before you find ways to save, you need to know how much you’re spending. Because pharmacists are not required to put the fees on your receipt, many people don’t even know dispensing fees exist, much less how much they are paying.

If you don’t know how much the pharmacy you go to charges for a dispensing fee, that’s a conversation you should start as soon as possible. Because, while the fee may not show up on a receipt, pharmacists are required by law to tell patients both the price of the drug they are buying, and how much they charge for any kind of professional fees at their request. 

During this conversation, make sure to ask your pharmacist how much they are charging you for each prescription, as fees may change depending on the drug.

Once you have that information, the next step is to find out more about the other pharmacists in your community. By asking the right questions you can save on your prescription drugs by:

  • Shopping around for the lowest rate – Because professional fees vary so much, you may save money simply by switching pharmacies, even if your insurance covers a portion of the fees.

  • Making your pharmacy visits more efficient – If your pharmacy charges a flat fee, you can save money by filling as many prescriptions as possible for each visit. If you take ongoing medications, like asthma medication, see if you can fill three month’s worth with one visit to save on fees.

By looking around, and being aware of what your pharmacy charges, you can make the most of every dollar you spend there. So choose your pharmacy wisely.