Upside and downside for consumers caught in crossfire of pharmacy war

Thanks to changes to the Ontario Drugs Benefits program, residents can look forward to more affordable medicine from their local drug stores, said the Consumers’ Association of Canada.

The CAC said requirements for pharmacies to cut prices on generic drugs will compel them to compete and as a result, improve the cost and the quality of their services.

Bruce Cran, President of the CAC, predicts drug stores will have to shape up in order to stay profitable.

“That is the theory of the marketplace and in practice, I hope the theory works out. There’s more than one large chain and there’s all of these private ones that could ingratiate themselves to consumers by supplying extra service,” Cran said.

The Ontario government in March announced changes to require makers of generic drugs to cut their prices by 25 per cent. The requirement has sparked a province-wide firestorm of protest from pharmacists.

Cathy Nguyen, a pharmacist at the Rum Ball Drug Mart in Toronto, warned that to make up for lost money, her customers could see new charges on services which are presently free.

“Some of our patients rely on the services that we provide because of disability. We will have to start charging them for these services they have come to depend on.”

She added the some pharmacies could possibly close, limiting access and variety of services stores have to offer.

“If it comes down to the rumours of pharmacies closing, people will be forced to go to certain pharmacies, whereas they had an option before,” Nguyen said.

Cran said the threat of pharmacy closures was negligible, adding Ontarians didn’t need “four pharmacies of the same brand name on the same block.”

We’re being told that a lot of consumers think we’re being over serviced by the number of pharmacies that are there. If a few close, I think consumers are saying that they’re not going to miss a readjustment towards reality and clarity.”

Generic drug makers pay pharmacies “professional allowances” in exchange for stocking their products. Pharmacies receive the money through what Health Minister Deb Matthews calls needlessly high costs on prescription drugs to pharmacies.

“The days of artificially high drug prices, paid on the backs of patients and taxpayers, are gone and they are gone for good,” Matthews told a gathering at the Canadian Club in early April.