Confusion brews with over-the-counter drug coverage

Vancouver Island, BC

Many Nuu-chah-nulth people are aware that through their health coverage provided by Pacific Blue Cross, they have access to free over-the-counter medications and supplies. There is a long list of OTC medications called Plan W on the First Nations Health Authority website stating what people on this plan have free access to.

Ideally, people under this plan can go to their pharmacist to ask for their OTC medications, and the pharmacist does the necessary prep work and hands the items to the client. But people are reporting that this has not been the case at some pharmacies.

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s health department has received queries from Nuu-chah-nulth-aht attempting to access OTC products at the Walmart pharmacy in Port Alberni. According to the NTC’s Director of Health Lynette Lucas, these people are being told they must have a prescription from their doctor to get the OTC items they need.

The Health Benefits Program is available to First Nations people with Indian status who live in B.C. Health Benefits has partnered with BC PharmaCare to offer PharmaCare Plan W to First Nations people living in the province. Plan W is an 18-page listing of over-the-counter items that are available for free to those with coverage.

The list is constantly updated, and some items get delisted. It includes items like OTC pain relievers, antihistamines, antibiotic cleansers and ointments, treatments for nausea, constipation, dry eyes, fungal infections, head lice, warts and much more.

Walmart pharmacist Stineli Taniegra told Ha-Shilth-Sa that they dispense Plan W products all the time, but there’s been a misunderstanding.

“Sometimes people ask for medications on the list that are no longer covered,” said Taniegra.

When that happens, patients are advised to see their doctors when the medication is available by prescription only.

The NTC’s Non-Insured Health Benefits Coordinator Robert Cluett has reached out to several pharmacies to ask whether or not they dispense OTC products without a doctor’s prescription. Most pharmacies in Port Alberni and other urban areas on Vancouver Island work with the program. But some people think they don’t.

“People should go over the list (Plan W) to make sure what they want is still listed – the list is always changing,” said Taniegra.

Many items are removed from the list while other items are added to the list. Taniegra says pharmacists have to keep a careful eye on the list to ensure what they dispense will be covered by a medical plan.

To view the list, go to PharmaCare Plan W on the B.C. government website (

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