​​​Pharmacy Service Update

To support physical distancing and reduce non-emergency doctor's visits, Health Benefits has temporarily enabled pharmacists to dispense some over-the-counter medications to treat pain and fever without a prescription. More information is available here.

Doctors' offices and pharmacies have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that all British Columbians receive essential medical care. Health Benefits coverage through PharmaCare Plan W and Pacific Blue Cross continues to be available so that you can get the medications you need.

​​​​​​Health Benefits provides coverage for certain pharmacy items and medications. It is important for clients to have access to the medical care that is most appropriate for their health and their medical condition. Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) items are used to treat short-term illnesses, and are one of the many ways to help patients with chronic conditions live healthier, longer, and more fulfilling lives.

The pharmacy benefit is administered through a partnership between Health Benefits, BC PharmaCare, and PBC. Clients can access detailed information about their pharmacy benefits through BC PharmaCare's formulary search. Additional information about coverage for pharmacy items is available through the online PBC Member Profile.

In addition, multiple provincial agencies including the BC Cancer Agency, BC Transplant, BC Renal Agency, and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS provide specialty pharmacy items to all BC residents living with specific illnesses or conditions.

For the latest pharmacy updates, check out PharmaCare's newsletters.

Pharmacy Benefit Coverage

Health Benefits covers specific pharmacy items and services under the following categories:

 Prescription drugs;

 Over-the-counter drugs; and

 Non-drug over-the-counter items (e.g., lancets for diabetic use).

BC PharmaCare is the primary provider of eligible pharmacy items and services through Plan W. In addition to covering many prescription drugs, Plan W covers some over-the-counter medications and over-the-counter items. Pacific Blue Cross provides supplementary pharmacy coverage​ to some FNHA clients.

​It is very important that clients enroll in Plan W so they can access their pharmacy benefits. Confirming enrollment is especially important for clients who live in communities on the Yukon and Alberta borders, or who have recently:

• moved to BC;

• turned 19; or

•​ married or divorced.

Clients who would like to confirm whether they are enrolled, or who need to enroll with Plan W for the first time, should have their status number ready and call Health Benefits at 1-855-550-5454.​​

​Visiting a Pharmacy in BC

Pharmacies in BC can directly bill PharmaCare, and many can directly bill PBC. To avoid out of pocket costs, confirm with your local pharmacy that they can directly bill PBC.  

Most pharmacy items are fully covered under the pharmacy benefit. If clients are asked to pay for their medication at the pharmacy counter, it's likely that the item is not covered. If you are being asked to pay for a medication, before paying out of pocket, talk with your pharmacist, doctor or nurse practitioner about treatment options that would be covered by your drug plan. If you have incurred an out of pocket cost for a covered medication, you can request reimbursement.

Items not listed as a benefit may be covered on an exceptional basis. Clients should call Health Benefits at 1-855-550-5454 to learn more about exceptional coverage.

Visiting a Pharmacy Outside of BC

If you are leaving BC temporarily, either for vacation, school, or work, plan ahead and get a refill of your medications before you leave. Talk to your pharmacist about your situation, because in many cases your pharmacist can provide you with a fully covered “vacation supply" of your medications. If you are outside BC and need medications, you can:

•​ ​​call Health Benefits for support at 1-855-550-5454; and/or

•​ pay out of pocket and request reimbursement.

When getting medications outside of BC, it is recommended that you or your pharmacist contact Health Benefits before you pay out of pocket for your prescription, to confirm if the drug is eligible for reimbursement.​

Brand Name and Generic Drugs

It is important to understand the differences and similarities between brand name and generic drugs.

Brand name drugs are the first version of a drug to be sold within a country and can only be sold by the company that researched and developed the drug (e.g., Tylenol). Brand name drugs are more expensive because of the money invested in research, development and marketing.

Generic drugs are a copy of a brand name drug that any company can sell (e.g., acetaminophen). Generic drugs have the same active ingredients as the brand name drug but cost less because the drug company does not need to invest money in creating it. Generic drugs undergo the same regulatory testing and are just as safe as brand name drugs.

Most public and private drug plans, including Health Benefits, cover a mix of brand name and generic drugs. If there is a medical reason the client cannot take a generic drug on Health Benefits' formulary list, the prescriber may be able to request Special Authority to ensure the medication is covered.

Approvals Before Services

Some items and services covered under the pharmacy benefit require approval before pharmacy providers can bill for them. Approvals for pharmacy items covered under PharmaCare are called Special Authorities. Approvals for pharmacy items covered under PBC are called Prior Authorizations.

Prescribers can submit Special Authority requests directly to PharmaCare, and Prior Authorization requests directly to PBC. If they receive authorization, they can provide the item or service and bill PharmaCare or PBC directly. If PharmaCare denies a Special Authority request, prescribers can resubmit the request with additional rationale.

If clients decide to pay out-of-pocket for an item or service before PharmaCare or PBC has authorized a Special Authority or Prior Authorization request - or despite PharmaCare or PBC denying the request - reimbursements will not be issued.

Pharmacy providers can identify which items and services require approval and which are covered under the pharmacy benefit by checking the Pharmacare Plan W formulary search, or their PBC Provider Portal, “PROVIDERnet." If the provider is unable to determine requirements or coverage, the client or pharmacy provider should contact Health Benefits at 1-855-550-5454.

Pharmacy Exclusions

Some items and services are considered Exclusions under the pharmacy benefit. Clients cannot seek exception or appeal for excluded items. Pharmacy benefit Exclusions include, but are not limited to:

 Alt​ernative therapies (e.g., glucosamine and evening primrose oil);

 Anti-obesity drugs;

 Certain over-the-counter (OTC) items;

 Clinic, physician, and hospital fees;

 Cough preparations containing codeine;

 Drugs with investigational or experimental status;

 Fees for writing prescriptions or completing a form;

 Fertility agents and impotence drugs;

 Household products (e.g., soap and shampoos);

• Megavitamins;

 Prescriptions written by a veterinarian; and

 Vaccinations for travel.

Authorized Providers

Pharmacy items must be provided by a licensed pharmacy or medical supplies and equipment provider.


When coverage for a service has been denied, clients have the right to appeal the decision. Items and services that are Exclusions cannot be appealed. See the Appeals page​ for more information about the appeals process.


Information and forms for pharmacy providers can be found on the Information for Health P​roviders page.

Fact Sheet​s

For information on how to access pharmacy benefits check out the Pharmacy Benefit Fact Sheet.

Here is the Summary of Diabetes Drugs, Insulins, and Supplies Coverage for FNHA Clients.

For information on how to access reimbursement for the Shingrix® vaccine check out the First Nations ​Health Benefits Shingles Fact Sheet.​

 Do you have questions?

Contact us at 

or call 

1-855-550-5454 (Toll Free)

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This client satisfaction survey will help us understand BC First Nations experiences accessing FNHA Health Benefits. We will use this information to improve the quality of our services.

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