Pharmacy funding cuts: Serious cuts in pharmacy services?

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Pharmacists across Ontario are expressing deep concern about the proposed funding cuts presented by the Ontario government.

In an effort to save the government an estimated $500 million a year, the province would like to reduce the amount that it must pay for generic drugs under the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan by 50%. The Ontario Drug Benefit Plan covers prescription drugs for the elderly, disabled, and on social assistance. Eventually, the cut would also apply to prescription drugs sold to people who are covered by private insurance health plans as well as to those who are not covered by a drug plan.

On the surface this might sound like a great plan. The government will save loads of money, and the public will benefit from lower-cost medications. The Ministry of Health even goes so far as to say that these cuts will ensure that “pharmacists are fairly compensated for helping patients by increasing dispensing fees and paying for additional services provided to patients.”

There’s a huge problem though.

In order for this plan to be implemented, the province wants to eliminate the $800 million a year that Ontario pharmacies get in professional allowances from generic drug companies – the very money that helps pharmacies to pay for these “additional services provided to patients.”

It’s interesting that Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews seems to be condemning this practice – even throwing words around like “kickbacks” – when the Ontario government was in fact a full supporter of this as a way to offset the costs of the wide array of services that pharmacists provide to patients. This is a real concern for small independent pharmacies as professional allowance cuts may mean the difference between staying afloat and going under. Big pharmacy chains expect that these cuts will result in the closing of stores, reduced pharmacy hours and staff, ultimately reducing the time that pharmacists will be able to spend with patients.

While you’re debating the pros and cons of such funding cuts, keep in mind some points that, until now, you may have taken for granted. The pharmacist is the most accessible healthcare professional around, offering sound (and free) health advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to anyone who requests it. Pharmacists currently provide a multitude of services that many of us have come to expect, such as free delivery of medication, free compliance packaging, free clinic days educating patients on various diseases, free training on blood glucose monitoring for diabetics, and free (and sometimes very lengthy) counseling about the safe and effective use of medications. Pharmacists identify and respond to important drug therapy issues that are all-too-often missed by busy doctors.

Expecting such services after the proposed funding cuts is simply unrealistic. But that’s just my opinion. Get both sides of the story and decide for yourself by visiting here and here (be sure to check out the myths and facts).

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