Quebec hopes changes to generic drug-buying process will save taxpayers millions

The provincial Health Ministry is launching its first tender process for generic drugs this weekend, hoping the new system will make medication cheaper for patients and save taxpayers $300 million a year.

Province expects to save $300 million by applying a centralized tendering process

The Quebec government announced it would choose generic drug brands in a tendering process it hopes will save taxpayers $300 million a year. (Associated Press)

Quebec's Health Ministry is launching its first tender process for generic drugs this weekend, hoping the new system will make medication cheaper for patients and save taxpayers $300 million a year.

The process is a departure from how generic drugs found their way to the market before. Pharmaceutical companies would supply pharmacies directly, giving them access to a range of brands. 

Now, brands will have to make bids to the government, with a limited number of slots per type of drug. 

In a letter to the Competition Bureau obtained by CBC, the ministry put it on notice about the first call for tenders, which launches Saturday.

It also stated mandatory price drops would come into effect in the coming months. Last June, the provincial government adopted legislation giving it the oversight to drop prices.

"We think that we're paying too much for generic drugs in Canada," Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette told reporters outside the National Assembly Wednesday morning.

Barrette said that when pharmaceutical industry players learned they would have to place bids, they approached the government to negotiate an agreement, but pulled out of "within a hair" of signing.

When asked, Barrette wouldn't say why. 

"The pharmaceutical industry is extremely fearful of a call for tenders," he said. "It's understandable; a call for tenders causes prices to fall."

Quebec's Health Minister Gaétan Barrette said pharmaceutical industry players are afraid of a tendering process in purchasing generic drugs because it would reduce prices. (Radio-Canada)

"We have every reason to move towards a tendering process and if the industry doesn't participate, well, I think the Canadian population will be offended," Barrette said. 

'It's going to disrupt the market'

In an interview with Radio-Canada, Bertrand Bolduc, president of the Quebec Order of Pharmacists, said limiting the amount of brands on the market could cause stock shortages. 

Fewer drug brands on the market means more pressure on raw material suppliers, he said.

"It's going to disrupt the market for a certain a mount of time, but if we move forward in a cautious and orderly way, there may be results," Bolduc said. 

He said pharmacists will have to liquidate the medications they sell that will no longer be mandated by the government, and that slight differences in the drugs, such as the colour of a pill, could affect patients.

Reached for comment, pharmaceutical companies directed CBC News to Bolduc, saying they aren't commenting yet.

With files from Radio-Canada