TORONTO - A sudden delay in eliminating fees that pharmacies receive from generic drug companies has nothing to do with the province's fight with the industry, Health Minister Deb Matthews said Tuesday.
The regulatory changes, which were supposed to take effect May 15, have been put off until mid-June, she said.
"We're taking the time it takes to make sure we get it right," she said. "As I say, these are big changes. We want to do it right."
Matthews insists she's not taking extra time to sweeten the deal with pharmacists, who've waged a very public war against the cuts.
The government won't go over the almost $300 million it has already put on the table that would increase dispensing fees, help rural and northern pharmacies and pay pharmacists for new health-related services, she said.
The ministry is combing through about 50 detailed submissions that it received about the draft regulations aimed at ending the so-called "professional allowances" drug companies provide to pharmacies in exchange for shelf space, she said.
The only room for compromise is how the money that's being offered to pharmacists will be spent, Matthews said.
"We are absolutely eliminating professional allowances — that will not change," she said. "We are absolutely bringing down the price of generic drugs to 25 per cent of brand (price)."
But the province is only offering to reimburse pharmacists a dollar for every three dollars they're taking away, said Donnie Edwards, who owns an independent pharmacy in Ridgeway, near Fort Erie, Ont.
Pharmacists are still waiting to hear if the government will meet with them to discuss a counter-proposal that would lower drug prices while providing a "full reinvestment" to dispensing fees, he said.
"Pharmacists are a bit confused because we're hearing that there's an extension, but nobody really has come forward to give us the exact details of what that extension is and why," Edwards said.
"We're glad to hear and pleased to hear the government did this extension, but that's not enough. We need to have meaningful discussions about real solutions that ensure the preservation of pharmacy as a hub of community health care."
A group of independent pharmacists are holding a news conference at the legislature Wednesday to discuss the impact the cuts will have on health care.
Pharmacists across the province are concerned about the welfare of their patients, but they haven't heard back from the ministry about their proposal to reimburse pharmacists, Edwards said.
Pharmacists also want lower generic drug prices and are willing to live without professional allowances, but they need to be fairly compensated, he said.
Ontario pharmacists have asked the government for at least $260 million a year in direct funding to drop their opposition to the plan to cut $750 million a year in fees paid to them by generic drug companies.
The Liberal government says Ontario pays much higher rates for generic drugs than many other jurisdictions and wants to eliminate the professional allowance fees — which it likens to kickbacks — to lower costs for prescription medications.