Alberta's premier says her government is committed to its plan to lower drug costs for Albertans, despite protests by pharmacists.
"Change is difficult, but I think we're going to work through it and the partnership will be better in the long run," said Premier Alison Redford on Thursday.
"At the end of the day, the policy objective here is to ensure that drug costs are lower for Albertans."
Pharmacists rallied at the provincial legislature and in downtown Calgary on Thursday, upset that they weren’t consulted about the changes, which they say could force some pharmacies in smaller communities to close.
Shane St. Arnault, who has a pharmacy in Redwater, Alta., said he questions why the government is reducing the price it pays on generic prescription drugs to 18 per cent of the price of branded equivalents instead of the 25 per cent other provinces pay.
"The biggest thing is that they're going too fast, too low, without really evaluating the long-term effects of what they're doing," he said.
Pharmacist Kathy Burniston said the changes could lead to more expensive drugs.
"There is an antibiotic that used to be a generic and the company has decided it's not worth making, so only the brand name is available now and that company knowing it's the only one available, has increased that brand name price."
Changes due May 1
The government announced in this year's budget that it would reduce the price it pays on all generic prescription drugs from the current level of 35 per cent. The changes, which will save the government $90 million a year, have been pushed back to May 1.
Alberta Health says there are many well-funded programs available to pharmacists to help them get through the changes.
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 affect 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.
It's the second time pharmacists protested in Edmonton.
Alberta introduce a new drug program with its latest budget. PharmaCare, which is designed for the 20 per cent of Albertans who don't have drug coverage, will take existing drug programs and merge them into one.