Slashed drug costs shocks pharmacists

Pharmacists across Alberta are keeping their fingers crossed the provincial government will open the lines of communication

Pharmacists across Alberta are keeping their fingers crossed the provincial government will open the lines of communication for negotiations after announcing a devastating slash in the costs of generic drugs.

On March 7 the province announced the costs of generic drugs are being cut from 35 per cent of brand name drugs to 18 per cent.

With the cut costs — taking effect May 1 — pharmacies will see a sharp drop in revenue.

“We do support lower drug prices for consumers,” said Byron Bergh, president of the Alberta Pharmacists Association. “We just need a different funding model.”

Bergh says there’s no question the government wants pharmacists, as highly trained health care professionals, to become more involved in delivering Alberta’s primary care. However, they aren’t paving that road gold.

“I’m just very concerned about the impact on sustainability of the pharmacy,” said Peter Lok, associate owner of Ponoka’s Shoppers Drug Mart.

Pharmacies’ direct funding comes from dispensing fees, which have barely increased $1 in 20 years, and the $10.22 isn’t going to cover the costs.

Indirect funding comes from the costs of the generic drugs. Part of that indirect funding is a rebate system for pharmacies to re-gain a portion of the money handed to suppliers. But as the costs of generic drugs approach the bottom line those rebates have disappeared.

“There’s no money left from the generic companies,” said Bergh. “They’re (pharmacists) getting way less and that’s the bottom line.”

Bergh says the concern isn’t the lower costs, it’s how quickly it came about. “The government made this decision with a lot of assumptions and very little consultation.”

“That’s a concern for pharmacists, they’re caught in a trap”

He added the government is trying to persuade the province that everything is all right in the industry even with more than 300 pharmaceutical colleagues gathering on their doorstep in disagreement.

On March 21 a demonstration took place in Edmonton at the legislature, where hundreds of pharmacists gathered in a snow storm and chanted their discontent.

Last July the government introduced a new pharmaceutical framework that would allow pharmacies to bill for additional services, such as renewing a prescription or performing injections. However, Bergh says the framework “still has many wrinkles.”

“Pharmacies are working hard to adopt it, but the change is slow,” said Bergh. The framework will help offset the hardships these cuts created but it won’t come close to capturing the difference.

Bergh says with this announcement pharmacists can expect to see more stress in the workplace, as well as reduced hours, wage reductions and layoffs. He’s encouraged those affected to speak with their MLAs in hopes of inciting changes.

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