Online Pharmacy Tool Helping Save on Prescription Medication

Pacific Blue Cross, a leading health benefits company, has recently developed a free online tool to educate consumers and help them perform a cost comparison search of prescription drugs quickly.

Consumers can now easily see which pharmacy charges the least for their prescription.

The high cost of prescriptions is what drove Pacific Blue Cross to create this online tool. In an interview following the launch of Pharmacy Compass, Leza Muir, senior vice-president of claims for Pacific Blue Cross told Yvonne Zacharias at the Vancouver Sun:

“One of our goals in developing the tool is to make sure all British Columbians, whether you have drug coverage or not, have access to affordable health care. Our whole aim without pharmacy company is to lower the out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs for all consumers.” 

The Pharmacy Compass and Employee Benefit Plans

Even with a benefit plan, prescriptions are expensive, because not all employee benefit plans are created equal. Some will have higher co-pay amounts while others may have a deductible or lower annual maximum limits.

This tool is useful for all individuals purchasing medication whether they have prescription coverage or not. It can also be used by administrators and sponsors of benefits programs to help educate their staff on how to ‘buy better’ for the health of their plan. Individuals can compare prices quickly and choose the pharmacy with the best pricing for their medication. Controlling costs helps everyone involved…It’s a win-win.

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How the Pharmacy Compass Online Tool Works

The Pharmacy Compass online tool is easy to use and there’s no registration required. To use the tool, all the user has to do is go to the site and agree to the terms, and then type in the name of a drug (or it’s drug identification number, aka, DIN) dosage, and pharmacy location.

In most cases after inputting the information, the Pharmacy Compass pulls up a list of pharmacy names, locations, per-pill prices, and dispensing fees. It also gives consumers the price of generic equivalents (if available). Sometimes it doesn’t pull data, which is discussed in How Accurate is the Pharmacy Compass section of this blog.

There are two ways to search. One is with the “Price Near Me” tab. The user types in the name of the drug, the dosage, and the name of the town or city. The second way is to search “Price at my Pharmacy” tab. To use this feature the user needs to know the exact name and location of the pharmacy.

There’s also a FAQ tab, if the user doesn’t understand something about the tool.

Potential Learning Curve to using the Pharmacy Compass

Since it’s an electronic tool, some people might have to learn how to use it. It’s not that it’s difficult to use but it’s a computer program so it requires exact criteria to work properly.

The main problem users run into is not knowing the exact name of their medication, or DIN and dosage. It’s important, especially with new prescriptions, to get that information from the doctor, rather than relying on reading their prescription or pill bottle. It’s not like Google where you only have to type a few letters and the program suggests the rest.

How Up to Date is the Pharmacy Compass?

Pacific Blue Cross updates the Pharmacy Compass monthly. The drug prices are calculated based on prescription claims submitted in British Columbia over the previous three months. Since the data only comes from claims submitted to Pacific Blue Cross, it’s possible there’s no information on a certain pharmacy if no claims for a drug have been processed.

For example, a search for Champix in a small community such as Enderby may not return any data for the two pharmacies located there, because there hasn’t been a claim submitted to Pacific Blue Cross in the last three months from there; so, the data may come from pharmacies in Salmon Arm, and/or Vernon.

It’s important to note that the Pharmacy Compass only compares prices of drugs that are in pill or capsule form. If, for example, an employee has Type 1 diabetes, they can’t use Compass to compare insulin prices.

How Accurate is the Pharmacy Compass?

Although it’s updated monthly, it’s not exact because price and availability of medication can change at any time. However, it offers an average price to give consumers an idea of price differences for comparison purposes only.

It’s important to note the Pharmacy Compass is a tool to make finding cost effective prescriptions, it’s not a recommendation tool to advise which pharmacy to use. It doesn’t prefer any particular pharmacy over others.

Generic Drugs vs Name Brand Pharmaceuticals

A generic equivalent is a non-brand name version of a drug. The generic drug is chemically equivalent so it serves the same purpose, but costs less.

It’s important to note that generic drugs are manufactured by various companies so their prices vary; and pharmacies deal with different suppliers. As of April 1, 2004, generic drugs listed with Pharmacare typically cost 20 per cent of the brand name drugs in British Columbia.

What is the Drug Identification Number (DIN)

The DIN is an eight digit number assigned to a drug product by Health Canada when it’s been authorized for sale. It can be found on pharmacy receipts and prescription labels. It identifies the following:

  • Product name
  • Active ingredient
  • Strength
  • Dosage form
  • Manufacturer
  • Route of administration

Factors That Affect Prescription Costs

Factors That Affect Prescription Costs Among Pharmacies

Many factors affect the price and dispensing fee to fill prescriptions, including:

  • Ingredient availability
  • Drug shortages
  • Regulatory changes
  • Systemic changes in drug pricing
  • Manufacturer’s decisions
  • Shipping costs

In some situations, prices may also include services above dispensing fees such as drug compounding services, or specialized packaging (blister packs).

The dispensing fee in British Columbia ranges between $4 to $12 plus. This fee covers the cost for the pharmacist to review the prescription, ensure the safety of the prescription, and patient counselling as well expenses such as rent, inventory, and salaries.

Factors That Affect the Cost of Pill and Capsule Prescriptions

There’s also a number of factors that affect the cost of the medicine such as:

  • The cost to manufacture the medication
  • Shipping costs
  • Wholesaler mark-up
  • Pharmacy mark-up

What to do if Pharmacy Prices are Lower at a Different Pharmacy

If the Pharmacy Compass reveals lower prices at a different pharmacy than the employee uses, they should first contact the pharmacy and confirm the cost of the drug. However, prior to changing pharmacies, employees should also consider their relationship with their current pharmacist, convenience of the pharmacy’s location, and business hours.

Tips for Employees to Save Money on Prescription Medication in British Columbia

  • Compare prices between pharmacies with Pharmacy Compass
  • If your condition is stable, buy three month’s supply at one time to save on dispensing fees
  • Buy generic medication if it’s available
  • Talk with your doctor and pharmacist about ways to optimize medications so they’re cost-effective

Prescriptions are expensive in British Columbia, and that probably won’t change in the future. But, with Pharmacy Compass and tips above, it’s possible to save money on the cost of prescriptions.

At Shelter Bay Financial Corp., we specialize in creating cost-effective employee benefit plans. We work closely with plan sponsors to provide the best plans for their employees and their business.

To learn more, place call toll free to 1.888.498.5288.