Hundreds of Alberta pharmacists gathered in front of the legislature Thursday to raise concerns about the affects of the provincial budget changes to generic prescription drugs.

Starting on April 1, the province is reducing the amount of costs it covers from 35 to 18 per cent.

"It's a very short time frame for pharmacies to be able to make changes to their infrastructure to be able to support, still providing the same quality of care to their patients that they do today, with a much lower funding model than what we have right now," said Alberta pharmacist Jody Skrobot.

'A lot of pharmacies are going to be questioning whether it's even viable to remain open.' — Alberta pharmacist Jody Skrobot

Traditionally, the revenues earned through generic prescription drug sales by pharmacies has offset what industry associations call the chronic underfunding of pharmacy services by governments.

Pharmacists also make money off pharmacy fees charged each time they dispense drugs, but those have remained unchanged since 2005.

The Alberta Pharmacists Association says the change will impact the ability of pharmacists to deliver high-quality care to Albertans, and while they support the governments move to lower generic drug prices, the dramatic nature of the decrease concerns them.

"Pharmacy has been more than willing to help government achieve their financial goals," said Alberta Pharmacists Association president Byron Bergh in a news release.

"The government does not seem to be aware of the drastic effects [these cuts] may have on the level of care pharmacists are able to provide Albertans."

Rural pharmacies face tough decision

Skrobot says for small rural pharmacists without a big patient base, the increased costs of buying generic prescription drugs may make them consider going out of business.

"A lot of pharmacies are going to be questioning whether it's even viable to remain open," Skrobot said.

Skrobot says the pharmacists would like to meet with the government to find some short-term solutions to reduce the impact on clients.

Alberta is co-lead on a pan-Canadian process to health-care efficiencies and had been working with the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores (CACDS) and its partners on patient-friendly cost savings.

However, the CACDS says it had no idea the Alberta government would be making the cuts to drug costs that were announced in the budget.

"We were shocked when the Alberta government blind-sided broader pharmacy by unilaterally cutting generic drug prices by 50 per cent," says Denise Carpenter, president of the CACDS, in a news release.

"As health-care providers, we call on the Government of Alberta to abandon its decision to unilaterally reduce generic prices by 50 per cent and, instead, work with us to design and implement a program that protects and supports pharmacy services, while responsibly reducing drug costs," Carpenter added.