Drug store health not a concern, McGuinty says

TheStar.com – News
Published On Wed Apr 14 2010.  Rob Ferguson, Queen’s Park Bureau

Ontario accepts that its drug reforms may hurt smaller pharmacies that specialize in medication rather than carry more profitable products such as cosmetics , Premier Dalton McGuinty suggested Wednesday.

“The responsibility of our government is not to ensure that we have a particular kind of pharmacy industry in place,” he told reporters as controversy continued over plans to cut generic drug prices 50 per cent, saving money for consumers and drug plans.

“I would argue the responsibility of government is that we have quality, affordable drugs available to the people of Ontario and that we have as many pharmacies in place as are reasonably necessary to ensure that Ontarians have access to those drugs.”

His remarks came as Shoppers Drug Mart stepped up its campaign against the reforms, buying full-page ads in major newspapers, including the Star.

The ads said the company recognizes the need to reduce health costs and generic drug prices, but said the government is going about it the wrong way because dispensing fees for prescriptions under taxpayer-funded drug plans remain about half the $14 it costs to fill a prescription.

Without mentioning a figure, the ads also attack the government’s plan to ban $750 million a year in payouts from generic drug companies to pharmacies, saying that makes it hard for drug stores to afford the services customers are used to receiving. The government blames the payouts for inflating drug prices.

Shoppers bought the ads to correct what it felt was “misleading information” circulating in the furor over the reforms unveiled last week by Health Minister Deb Matthews, said company spokeswoman Tammy Smitham.

In a sign the government is closely watching the public debate, officials circulated what they said was an internal e-mail from a major pharmacy chain detailing its communication plan to fight the reforms.

Dated March 17, the two-page document urged a “very aggressive” outreach campaign to convince customers and patients the reforms could hurt pharmacies and hint at continuing the effort until the October 2011 election campaign.

The Ontario Community Pharmacies coalition said it was not aware of the document but a source noted the government also has a communications plan aimed at getting the public on its side.

One veteran Liberal said the government is using the battle with pharmacies to send a signal about the need for restraint in future talks with the Ontario Medical Association on doctor’s wages, the Ontario Nursing Association and the Ontario Hospital Association.

“That’s what they’re laying the groundwork for.”

Meanwhile, the Ontario Federation of Labour, which supports the reforms, called on unionized workers in London – the health minister’s hometown – to boycott Shoppers Drug Mart for its decision to cut store and pharmacy hours at seven outlets there.

“In its determined effort to sink a government reform that would see generic drug prices cut by 50 per cent, Shoppers Drug Mart is fast becoming one of Ontario’s worst corporate citizens,” said federation president Sid Ryan.

< http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/795447–drug-store-health-not-a-concern-mcguinty-says >

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