Alberta's plan to cut generic drug prices and expand the role of pharmacists could mean the end of small town drugstores, say some pharmacists.
As part of revamp of the province's drug program, the price of generic drugs will be reduced by 30 per cent as of April 1, which the provincial government estimates will save $100 million a year.
The move could cost each drugstore about $200,000 a year, according to Al Hodgins, a spokesman for an organization representing about 100 Alberta independent pharmacies. The hit to pharmacists comes through "a very complex and complicated reimbursement plan" set up by the province in the 1990s and which involved the pharmaceutical industry, Hodgins said.
At the same time, the province is asking pharmacists to offer more services, such as prescribing, interpreting lab results and providing injections, without coming up with a way to reimburse them, said Hodgins.
"What we see coming from this government is a $100-million cut and that isn't something that our businesses out there can afford," he said. "The result of that is going to be that Albertans are going to find that their access to pharmacists, and the pharmacy services that they are used to receiving, will no doubt be affected."
Pharmacist Leslie Rosadiuk said small communities would be hardest hit. "It's not really our loss, it's the town's loss. I mean there's already a pharmacy closing in Hanna because of this," she said.
Hodgin's organization has taken out full-page ads in newspapers asking Albertans to sign an online petition.
$5-million transition plan
Alberta Health has already set up a transition plan that includes a three-year, $5-million fund to help rural and remote pharmacies. About 370 out of Alberta's 900 pharmacies will be eligible for help, the province estimates.
The $100 million in savings from reducing generic drug prices will be used to offset government drug plans, such as the seniors' drug plan, and "pay pharmacists for their expanded scope of practice and role in providing these services," the province said in an October news release.
Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said Monday he recently met with some major pharmacy chains about the changes.
"We've got a negotiation that is on the way and I hope to have an announcement about that fairly soon," he said.
Albertans spend about $2.3 billion annually on prescription drugs, while provincial government spending on such drugs was $1.2 billion in 2008-2009.