Switch in drug benefits for First Nations patients

Eric Plummer, July 27, 2017

This October, prescription drug benefits for aboriginal patients will be offered through BC PharmaCare, after the serivice has been provided by the First Nations Health Authority for the last four years. (Bmramon/Wikimedia Commons photo)

British Columbia — 

Changes are coming to the system that delivers prescription medications to First Nations people in British Columbia.

As of Oct. 1, patients who currently receive their medical drugs through the First Nations Health Authority will be serviced by BC PharmaCare, the provincial program that manages prescription medications for most B.C. residents. With over 140,000 First Nation residents in B.C. – including 10,000 Nuu-chah-nulth-aht – the switch involves a massive transfer of health files.  

“For most clients things will be the same at the pharmacy counter,” stated Richard Jock, the FNHA’s chief operating officer, in a letter released this week.

FNHA clients can continue to take their BC Services Card, or CareCard, and Status Card to a pharmacy while getting a prescription filled. The health authority expects a smooth transition for those currently in the Medical Services Plan, as enrolled patients will automatically be switched to PharmaCare.

“The FNHA is transitioning prescription drug coverage that has been delivered through Non-Insured Health Benefits,” said the FNHA. “With a change to PharmaCare the client journey is more direct - special authorizations (exceptions) are completed more efficiently. B.C. pharmacists, physicians and nurse practitioners know PharmaCare better than NIHB.”

But the change could affect what brand of drug is supplied to some patients.

“A small number of clients will be required to change drug therapy. This is because NIHB and Pharmacare each have a slightly different list of approved drugs,” said the FNHA. “To support a seamless transition for our clients, FNHA is establishing transitional coverage for some medications. Those clients will continue to receive prescription coverage through a special authorization with the PharmaCare formulary.”

In October 2013 the First Nations Health Authority replaced Health Canada’s First Nations Inuit Health Branch. Now the FNHA designs, funds and delivers health programs to First Nations across the province.

As PharmaCare is a B.C. program, the service will not pay for prescriptions filled in other provinces.

“We suggest that anyone preparing to travel out of province should plan ahead and fill prescriptions here in British Columbia before leaving,” said the FNHA. “In most cases, clients are eligible to receive an advance supply lasting up to 100 days.”

More information on the switch to BC PharmaCare is available at the First Nations Health Authority’s benefits hotline 1-855-550-5454 or HealthBenefits@fnha.ca.