Low Cost Alternative (LCA) Program
On this page…
- What is a generic drug?
- Are generic drugs as good as brand-name drugs?
- Why should I care how much drugs cost?
- How do I get low-cost alternative drugs?
- How will my pharmacist know which products PharmaCare fully covers?
- What if I want a product that is not a low-cost alternative?
- What if my doctor writes “no substitution” on my prescription?
- I have extended health benefits. Will my private insurer reimburse me for a higher-priced product?
Generic drugs usually become available after patent protections on the original drug have expired.
Generics must contain the same active ingredients (and have similar dissolution characteristics, or ‘bioequivalence’) as the originals and save BC residents and insurers significant costs without compromising quality of care. Under PharmaCare, drugs deemed the "lowest cost alternative" are usually (but not always) generics.
- For details on bioequivalence, visit Health Canada's bioequivalence website.
Yes. They are just as safe and effective. They contain the same active ingredients and are manufactured to the same standards set by Health Canada, and to the same strict regulations established by the Food and Drugs Act. Only minor ingredients like dyes, coatings or binding agents may vary.
The real difference is in price – generic drugs cost 30 to 50% less, on average.
In Canada, everyone shares health care costs. Everyone pays for high-priced drugs, whether through the higher taxes needed for provincial drug insurance programs, increased premiums for private insurance, or cuts to our health care system.
To maintain our health care system and services, all Canadians need to be aware of the impact that the cost of medications has on the entire health-care system.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist. You may already be receiving a low-cost-alternative drug. If not, it may be because a generic equivalent of the drug prescribed by your doctor is not yet available. These health professionals can answer questions about generic drugs.
If your doctor prescribes a product with partial LCA status, then your pharmacist should inform you that a lower-cost alternative is available that will provide the same active ingredient and therapeutic treatment.
PharmaCare publishes the Low Cost Alternative/Reference Drug Program data files containing coverage information on all LCA drugs. Updates to the files are published in the PharmaCare Newsletter. If you have any questions about whether a product is covered fully or not, you can ask your pharmacist.
If you do not want the product that is the low-cost alternative, you have the option of purchasing the partial-benefit product, which PharmaCare will cover up to the LCA price while you pay the difference in cost.
If a low-cost alternative cannot be obtained due to manufacturer shortages, PharmaCare may temporarily approve full coverage of a partial-benefit product (according to the rules of your PharmaCare plan).
If the product is not a full benefit, your pharmacist may have to contact your doctor and request a change to the prescription. If your doctor insists on a certain product (and has not requested a Special Authority), you will receive only partial coverage from PharmaCare.
Contact your private insurer regarding its reimbursement policies.