By Barbara Hawes

As the coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak widens, expect the disruption to the global supply chain to continue, and manufacturers that rely on the parts and materials produced by China’s factories are among those that will feel the most pain.

The result is that you’re more likely to see fewer iPhones and wedding gowns than a shortage of, say, blood pressure medications or asthma inhalers. That hasn’t, however, kept benefits plan sponsors and their members from making “just-in-case” queries: Should we stock up now? Can we get the rules on early refills relaxed – especially for folks on inconveniently located job sites?

Initially, the simple answer was “no.” Currently, there are no significant shortages expected with any clinical drugs as a function of the coronavirus and its impact. The global supply chain for the vast majority of medications is more than adequate to meet demand.

Health Canada is closely monitoring any medications that might be affected by coronavirus-related manufacturing shutdowns in China, whether they are made there or rely on pharmaceutical ingredients from China. Even if the supply was seriously interrupted, only an estimated 20 prescription drugs would be affected and all have readily available alternatives. Only recently, several weeks into the global crisis was any product identified as being potentially in short supply as a result of the outbreak. Even in the normal course of business there are drugs that have supply issues from time to time for a variety of reasons.

As the outbreak has continued, the major pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are maintaining contact with manufacturers, monitoring pharmaceutical inventories and maintaining updates related to the supply chain on their websites. Each of the PBMs has communicated their policy on if and when early refill restrictions will be relaxed and what they are doing to make it more convenient and economical (free delivery) to have 90 day supply shipped to home. Some retail pharmacies are also offering free delivery to make sure patients who are sick can stay in isolation, and still get refills of their maintenance medications. It is important for patients to keep adequate supply on hand, but not to hoard or stock-pile medication during this time. HUB is maintaining constant contact with national PBMs to continue monitoring availability and changes in process and recommends plan sponsors reach out to them as well to stay aware of the situation. But for now, they should remain calm given supply availability.

HUB International’s team of Employee Benefits consultants, including members of its Pharmacy Practice and compliance organization, are available to help you manage the issues facing today’s benefits programs. Get the latest information, guidance and resources on Coronavirus (COVID-19) to help you protect what matters most on our Coronavirus Resource Centre.