New Brunswick

Pharmacists get generic drug pricing 'transition period'

New Brunswick pharmacists will be allowed a 10-day transition period to help them adjust to the province's new generic drug pricing policy, Health Minister Madeleine Dube announced Friday.

N.B. government will delay new price caps for 10 days

Health Minister Madeleine Dubé says the delay will allow pharmacies to further reduce inventory purchased at higher prices. (CBC)

New Brunswick pharmacists will be allowed a 10-day transition period to help them adjust to the province's new generic drug pricing policy, Health Minister Madeleine Dubé announced Friday.

"Our government recognizes that reducing generic drug prices will impact pharmacy revenues," she said in a statement.

As a result, implementation of the new policy, which caps the amount pharmacies can charge for generic drugs, originally slated for June 1 will be delayed until June 11.

But New Brunswick pharmacists are calling the government offer to help them adjust to the new generic drug pricing policy, insufficient.

Association President Allister Bursey said the province is still not adequately compensating pharmacists for dispensing and other professional services.

The 10-day transition will "allow pharmacies to further reduce inventory purchased at higher prices," Dubé said.

In addition, the government has agreed to a request by the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association to engage in formal negotiations once the first year has passed, with a view to a signed agreement in 2013, she said.

Ongoing public relations war

Paul Blanchard, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharamcists' Association, says the new generic drug policy will cost pharmacists money. (CBC)

The announcement comes on the heels of a public relations war against the new generic drug pricing policy by New Brunswick pharmacists.

The association has recently placed a full-page ad in newspapers, written letters to the editor and churned out several news releases critical of the department of health.

The government contends New Brunswickers are currently paying more for generic drugs than people in other provinces and that the new cap will save $10 million within the first 10 months.

But Paul Blanchard, the pharmacists' association's executive director, argues the government is capping the price of generic drugs without adequately compensating pharmacists for dispensing and other professional services.

"The reason we're doing that is we don't believe that every dollar that they save needs to come out of pharmacy," he said.

"You know, we think they could do things better. Our members are being asked to rationalize their services, to enhance our operations to be more efficient.

"The Department of Health certainly can be more efficient and we've suggested many ways they can do that," Blanchard said.

Portion of savings to be reinvested

On Friday, the minister said a portion of the savings achieved through the reduction in generic drug prices will be reinvested into pharmacy services in several ways.

  • Investing about $4.5 million in 2012-13 to increase dispensing fees paid to pharmacists and paying a mark-up on generic drugs to help offset the reductions in revenues that pharmacies receive through rebates from generic drug manufacturers.
  • Investing $233,000 to implement NB PharmaCheck, a medication review program, as an insured service under the New Brunswick Prescription Drug Program for which pharmacies can be compensated.
  • Investing $295,000 in a rural pharmacy incentive initiative by paying an additional $2 dispensing fee for the first 10,000 provincial prescription drug program prescriptions filled at pharmacies 25 kilometres or more from the next nearest pharmacy.
  • Investing $1.2 million to help offset the costs associated with pharmacies connecting to the provincial Drug Information System / Prescription Monitoring Program, which will improve prescribing and reduce the abuse of prescription drugs.

New working group

The provincial government will establish a working group, made up of representatives from the Department of Health and the pharmacists' association to monitor the savings achieved by the policy in the first year, said Dubé.

The group will discuss "opportunities related to the role of pharmacists in the health care system" as well as potential reinvestment should the savings be higher than projected, she said.

When Dubé announced the new policy in March, she said it was based on a public consultation tour and negotiations with the pharmacists' association.

But pharmacists have been calling on the provincial government to listen to them for months.

"We need to have some dialogue and that's all we're asking," Moncton-area pharmacist Anne Marie Picone Ford told CBC News.

"We need to be able to sit down at the table.

"We have a ton of ideas, as we see now in the ads that they've had to go out with of ideas that as pharmacists how we can save," she said.

"We're at the front end, we're on the front lines and we know where the savings are, we just need people to listen and come up with a plan that's beneficial to everybody."

Meanwhile, many seniors are worried about what will happen, said Cecile Cassista, of the Coalition for Seniors Rights.

"They are making decisions whether they should be buying good food and fruit, or go without medications. So there are tough times for them these days."

Generic drugs are cheaper than brand name drugs.

The government has said New Brunswickers pay 50 to 70 per cent of the brand name price while residents of other provinces pay only 25 to 35 per cent.