Ont. pharmacies threaten closures over fees

Ontario pharmacists warn that vulnerable patients will be caught in the crossfire in a fee dispute with the province over how much pharmacies can charge for generic drugs.

Ontario pharmacists say vulnerable patients will be caught in the crossfire in a fee dispute with the provincial government. At issue is how much pharmacies can charge for generic drugs.  

An Ontario proposal would force pharmacies to charge no more than 25 per cent of the cost of an equivalent brand-name drug when dispensing a generic version. Currently, they can bill patients 50 per cent of the brand name's price.

"This approach has put the entire profession and independent pharmacy into peril," pharmacist Donnie Edwards, who owns an IDA in Ridgeway, Ont., said of the plan.

"The changes will force many of these pharmacies to reduce their hours, cut back pharmacy services, and some will be forced to close all together."

Meantime, community pharmacists are also demanding an apology from Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews for what they called a challenge to their integrity.

Matthews had referred to an $800 million a year fund paid to pharmacists by generic drug companies as "a kickback" and said she intends to ban the practice..

The Ontario Pharmacists Association, the Independent Pharmacists of Ontario and the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores, issued a news release, asking her to apologize.

"We are extremely disappointed not only by the minister's negative statements and actions," said Rita Winn, a pharmacist at Lovell Drugs in Oshawa. "Pharmacists are particularly dismayed at the government's reckless actions."

Jim Keon, president of the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, also warned that some generic versions of drugs, as well as jobs in the generic drug industry, could disappear because of the Ontario changes.

"If we can't afford to bring them in at 25 per cent, then the government's going to end up paying a brand name company 100 percent, and that's not a good deal." Keon said in an interview with CBC News.