Will pharmacies go the way of the corner store?

By MPP Toby Barrett

In spite of what many perceive as a massive intervention by government into the private sector, Mr. McGuinty in a Toronto Star article states, “Our principle responsibility in government is not really to ensure there is any particular kind of pharmacy industry in place…”

However, the draconian elimination of rebates – a 50 per cent decrease in the amount of funding pharmacies receive – will have an immediate and debilitating effect on the “kind of pharmacy industry” operating in Ontario, and will close many of our rural and small town drug stores.

The Ontario Government announcement earlier this month means the end to so-called professional allowances generic drug makers pay pharmacies. At the same time the amount pharmacies can charge for generic drugs is being cut to no more than 25 per cent of the cost of the brand name products from the 50 per cent that is allowed now. Elimination of professional allowances can mean pharmacists lose up to half of their revenues. How does one handle a 50 per cent government-imposed pay cut without effecting services?

The government has claimed it will provide a larger dispensing fee for rural pharmacies to help cushion the blow, but have not defined rural. When it comes to rural physician recruitment incentives the Ministry of Health has just changed the rules and according to them Haldimand and Norfolk counties may no longer qualify as rural – losing out on the related incentives.

Haldimand and Norfolk Counties, not rural….who’d have thought!
Does this mean that our pharmacies are also not rural and also not qualify for additional support?

There’s little doubt that if government cuts are implemented, we can wave goodbye to the kind of service we get at our local pharmacy. As a recent pharmacy flyer indicates, pharmacists “may have significantly less time for patient consultations and…access to valuable health advice will be diminished.”

Make no mistake, these announced pharmacy reforms will: cut front-line patient care, increase wait times and line-ups for patients, increase fees patients pay for medication and its delivery, and reduce critical health-care services for seniors.

Who loses out? As usual you, the consumer, will get less from your pharmacist – starting with reduced hours, new delivery charges, and fees for other services such as blood pressure readings. Through this scheme, costs are downloaded from the public purse to individuals – public and private plans alike.

Bottom line, we will be forced to pay more out of pocket and may even see our local pharmacy close. What government fails to recognize is that most pharmacies in Ontario are owner-operated small businesses that deliver to us one-on-one neighbourhood health care.

The impact of this will be felt in every corner of the province; but particularly in rural and remote areas where the local pharmacist is often the only health professional for many miles. Pharmacists have long been and continue to be allies in improving health care delivery – particularly to seniors.

We in Rural Ontario already get the short end of the stick – doctor shortages, smaller hospitals, and the lack of public transportation.

Once again, it’s the little guy who’s been dealt the hardest blow. The small pharmacies and the independents, the low hanging fruit, are essentially fighting for their jobs and their livelihood. I join them in pushing government to re-think this costly direction.