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Pharmacist Daryl Dolynny said he's worried the Department of Health and Social Services will leave it up to front-line health care workers to explain to the public how proposed changes to the extended health benefits program will affect them. - Elizabeth McMillan/NNSL photo

Health benefit changes a headache for pharmacies

Elizabeth McMillan
Northern News Services
Published Friday, April 23, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The people who dispense drugs are getting an earful on a daily basis about the Department of Health and Social Services' proposed changes to the extended health benefits plans and that's just the start of confusion if a new program goes ahead, according to pharmacist Daryl Dolynny.

"(The department is) going to circle a date on the calender and say effective June 1, that's what's going to happen. I know pharmacies are scrambling trying to know how to deal with this," he said.

"That's not our job as pharmacists to explain plans."

The former president of the NWT Pharmacists Association and owner of Shoppers Drug Mart in Yellowknife, said changing the benefits program will mean hours of extra paperwork for pharmacists.

"It's crazy. Monumental," he said. "If you had to evaluate how much time, most pharmacies almost have to employ a full-time person at this magnitude. And there's no compensation model for that paperwork. It's an expectation of business. But why should that fall on the business sector? We didn't create this paperwork."

He said he's worried pharmacists will have to bear the burden of explaining to customers why health services and prescriptions that were previously covered aren't. Already, he said, many people have questions about how they will be affected.

The Department of Health and Social Services is proposing changes to the existing extended health benefits program which now offers health benefits to seniors, people on income support and people with specified conditions. The proposed shift to an income-based system would mean that everyone making more than a certain income would be partially covered, meaning they'd have to pay a portion of expenses themselves.

Dolynny said he was concerned customers would look to pharmacists to explain when they now had different coverage.

"You can't just hand them a pamphlet," he said.

Damien Healy, spokesman for the Health department, said the actual implementation of a new program would be straightforward.

"It's not a difficult task. We have a billing process in place right now. Administratively, it's not that difficult," he said. "It's probably more of a matter of just notifying how the new billing process will work ... once we know we'll tell them."

He said the department would be creating new billing forms and notifying pharmacies when the department decided on changes.

But Dolynny said it's not just a matter of what will happen, he's concerned the department didn't ask pharmacists what should happen.

"We will abide by any type of government direction once they've decided, but they have to consult," he said.

More work is needed in the NWT health system to ensure people get coverage quickly and easily, he said. Dolynny said the territorial government should be considering a catastrophic drug plan to ensure people with expensive medical conditions are covered, no questions asked.

He said pharmacists could give valuable input, like advice on how to ensure third-party insurance policies are billed first, before dipping into the GNWT's health coverage.

"Being the most available health care provider on the street, and the most accessible, we're also the ones that hear the most on-the-ground-level information all the time," he said.

When asked how the department got input from health care professionals in the territory, Healy said the department sent a letter to the NWT Dental Association, NWT Medical Association, Registered Nurses Association of NWT and Nunavut, as well as the NWT Pharmacist's Association, among others, asking for feedback on March 11. He said they didn't receive formal responses from any of those groups to that letter.

Adrienne Dufour, president of the pharmacists' association, said she was not prepared to comment at press time.

Healy said people within those organizations could and did submit feedback to the department like anyone else, by filling out an online survey or attending public meetings.

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