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Quebec pharmacists share concerns over bottom line at Bill 28 hearings

QUEBEC CITY — The dozen pharmacists walking into Bill 28 hearings on Friday morning looked very displeased.

Their representative from the Quebec Association of Pharmacy Owners proceeded to explain to the parliamentary commission exactly why they thought the proposed legislation was a raw deal.

“We accepted the government’s proposition but with that came the $177 million cut in our dispensing fees,” said President Jean Thiffault.

Thiffault said the money represents 20 per cent of Quebec pharmacy’s payroll.

“Pharmacists will not be able to integrate those cuts.”

“Pharmacies will close, store hours will decrease, pharmacists will have to cut some staff,” he said.

The law giving pharmacists more powers passed at the National Assembly in 2011, but was never implemented.

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READ MORE: Expanded role for pharmacists means better patient care, experts say

It allowed pharmacists to extend prescriptions, adjust dosage and provide medication when a diagnosis was not required. Under the legislation, prescriptions for the following drugs could be renewed at a pharmacy:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Birth control pills
  • Calcium
  • Thyroid hormones
  • Statin
  • Strips for detecting glucose
  • Vitamin D

In return, the government asked that pharmacists charge less for measuring out medication into pill organizers. The practice currently accounts for a third of the money billed by pharmacists to the province’s health insurance board.

Pharmacists maintained Friday those cuts will come out of their profits.

“Overall I think it’s positive for pharmacists to be able to do new things,”said Quebec’s Finance Minister, Carlos Leitao.

“Some will be reimbursed, some will not.” 

Bill 28 is expected to settle remuneration once and for all.

The measure is expected to help the government balance the budget this year. Quebec is also considering generic drugs as a solution to wrestling down the deficit.

READ MORE: Canada pays too much for generic drugs: study

“In Quebec and across Canada generic drugs are priced at somewhere between 25 per cent — and even down to 18 per cent — of the equivalent brand version,” said Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association President Jim Keon.

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“Ensuring maximum utilization of these products is absolutely essential.”

The Health Minister called Bill 28 a double-duty bill, generating savings and making healthcare more accessible.

READ MORE: Calls growing for national prescription drug program

He said pharmacists should respect the agreement they signed years ago, and start offering new services.

“We’re in the same situation with doctors.”

“They say now that we’ve signed a contract, it doesn’t fit us, we don’t like the contract we’ve signed and we want you not to apply the rule,” said Gaetan Barrette.

The PQ opposition were calling Bill 28 “Harperization” — in a reference to cuts that weren’t planned in the budget.

But the Couillard government argued these cuts are necessary.

New services offered in pharmacies are just one of the latest tools in the massive overhaul of the healthcare sector.