1. Introduction to the BC PharmaCare Program

On this page:

What is BC PharmaCare?

PharmaCare is British Columbia’s prescription drug program that helps B.C. residents pay for:

When is a person considered a B.C. resident for PharmaCare purposes?

A person is considered a B.C. resident and eligible for PharmaCare coverage if they meet the residency requirement for the Medical Services Plan (MSP).

>> Learn more about the MSP residency requirement.

Are B.C. residents covered for travel supplies?

B.C. residents are eligible for an early “top-up” refill under the Travel Supply Policy once every 6 months (180 days). 

>> Learn more in Section 5.4—Travel Supply Policy.

Out-of-province coverage

PharmaCare does not cover eligible benefits for patients who are temporarily out of the province except:

  • Claims meeting requirements under the Section 5.4—Travel Supply Policy;
  • Claims from patients covered under the Plan W funding arrangement with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), under which out-of-province purchases of Plan W benefits may be reimbursed if the client submits a manual claim to PharmaCare; and
  • Certain pre-approved out-of-province expenses when an individual requires treatment not available in B.C.

For example, PharmaCare covers eligible benefit medications and supplies for patients undergoing transplant procedures out of province (provided that PharmaCare receives faxed notification of the surgery from the BC Transplant Society).

In these cases, coverage of out-of-province medications and supplies remains subject to PharmaCare pricing policies and the usual rules of the patient's PharmaCare plan.

Any request for reimbursement for out-of-province purchases should be made in writing (and include all appropriate supporting documents) to Health Insurance BC (HIBC).

Who is responsible for BC PharmaCare?

The Pharmaceutical, Laboratory and Blood Services Division (PLBSD) of the BC Ministry of Health is responsible for the PharmaCare program and sets all policies governing the program.

Health Insurance BC (HIBC) administers the PharmaCare program on behalf of the Ministry and PLBSD. HIBC can answer questions about both the Medical Services Plan and PharmaCare.

How does PharmaCare work?

PharmaCare offers coverage through 12 plans:

  1. Fair PharmaCare plan—All B.C. residents are eligible to register for coverage based on family net income.
  2. Plan B—Long-term care
  3. Plan C—Recipients of B.C. income assistance 
  4. Plan D—Individuals registered with one of four provincial cystic fibrosis clinics
  5. Plan F—Children eligible for benefits through the At Home Medical Benefits program
  6. Plan G—Psychiatric Medications Plan
  7. Plan P—BC Palliative Care Drug Plan (part of the BC Palliative Care Benefits program)
  8. Plan W—First Nations Health Benefits
  9. Plan M—Medication Management Services
  10. Plan S—Nicotine replacement therapies under the Smoking Cessation Program
  11. Plan X—Antiretroviral medications through the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDs
  12. Plan Z—Assurance

B.C. residents can be covered under more than one PharmaCare plan.

For instance, a B.C. resident with cystic fibrosis may be covered under Fair PharmaCare for most of their eligible prescription and medical supply costs while they also receive coverage under Plan D for digestive enzymes and nutritional supplements.

What drugs and medical supplies does PharmaCare cover?

PharmaCare covers a broad range of prescription drugs. For eligible patients, it also covers certain medical devices and supplies, prosthetics, orthotics, and non-prescription medications.

More about drug coverage

  • The drugs PharmaCare covers include eligible medications (as determined by PharmaCare) prescribed by a physician, dentist, midwife, nurse practitioner, naturopath, podiatrist, or optometrist licensed and practicing in B.C.

    >> Check the PharmaCare Formulary Search for information on the medications that PharmaCare covers.
  • Smoking cessation products—specific nicotine replacement therapy products are fully covered for all B.C. residents with active MSP coverage.

More about medical supply coverage

PharmaCare covers the following medical supplies for the patients identified below:

  • Insulin, needles, syringes, continuous/flash glucose monitors and blood glucose test strips and specific pump supplies—for adults and children with insulin-dependent diabetes
  • Insulin pumps and specific pump supplies—for people with insulin-dependent diabetes
  • Prosthetic devices (including mastectomy supplies)—for patients of any age
  • Orthotic devices—for patients age 18 or younger
  • Ostomy supplies—for ostomy patients of any age

>> Learn more about medical devices and supplies coverage.

Are there limits on what PharmaCare will cover?

Yes. To ensure the PharmaCare program is financially sustainable, PharmaCare does not cover all prescription drugs. Instead, it covers drugs based on their effectiveness and cost.

PharmaCare fully covers some drugs (subject to the rules of a patient's PharmaCare plan) but only partially covers other drugs.

  • For instance, if several versions of a drug contain the same medically active ingredients, PharmaCare may cover only the lower cost versions. If several different drugs can be used to treat the same condition, PharmaCare may cover the more expensive drugs only if the patient has not been helped by the lower cost standard treatment.

    >> Learn more about BC PharmaCare policies.

Coverage may also be limited by the rules of a patient's PharmaCare plan.

  • For instance, under the Fair PharmaCare plan, if a patient and their spouse has annual net income above $30,000, they will have to meet a deductible (that is, pay their own drug costs and fees until the deductible is met). Once it is met, PharmaCare covers 70% of their eligible costs and fees for the rest of the year or until the Family Maximum is met. If the Family Maximum is met, PharmaCare pays 100% of eligible costs for the rest of the year. 

Are there items PharmaCare does not cover at all?

Yes, there are items that are not part of the PharmaCare program. In some cases, PharmaCare has decided not to include an item as a benefit, or coverage may already be provided through another agency. In other cases, the manufacturer has not applied to PharmaCare to request coverage of their product.

>> Learn more about what is not covered through PharmaCare on our Introduction to BC PharmaCare page.

PharmaCare covers benefits only if they are dispensed by providers enrolled in the PharmaCare program.

How are claims processed?

  • Most claims for prescription drugs and most medical supplies are submitted by a pharmacy or device provider on the province-wide computer network called PharmaNet.
  • Claims are automatically adjudicated on PharmaNet and the amount PharmaCare pays is deducted from the amount a patient pays when they pick up their product. Patients do not have to submit receipts to PharmaCare.

    Prescription claims: Any amount PharmaCare is contributing is printed on the pharmacy receipt.
  • PharmaNet adjudicates both product cost and pharmacy fees.
  • Pharmacy claims for services to long-term care facilities (capitation fees) and certain medical supplies must be submitted manually.

Is BC PharmaCare part of the Medical Services Plan (MSP)?

No. MSP and PharmaCare are separate programs within the Ministry of Health.

MSP insures medically required services provided by physicians and supplementary health care practitioners, laboratory services and diagnostic procedures. PharmaCare covers eligible prescription drugs, some medical devices and supplies, and pharmacy services.

Other insurers

PharmaCare does not normally cover costs that are fully reimbursed by another payer.

>> For more information, refer to Section 3.4 Patients—Other Payers.