Central Alberta pharmacists will be rallying with supporters on Thursday to protest funding cuts they say jeopardize “fundamental patient care.”
Most Albertans will not realize huge savings from drug price cuts that have been orchestrated by the government, but could see a big difference in levels of front-line service at their pharmacies, said pharmacist Jennifer Fookes.
As the owner of the Mortar and Pesto Pharmacy in Red Deer, she’s organizing a march Thursday starting at 11 a.m. from Superstore to City Hall for speeches at 11:30 a.m. Pharmacists will be protesting proposed changes by Alberta Health, including fee reductions for their services.
Alberta pharmacists would only be paid for a limited number of patient consultations on such concerns as diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking cessation and weight loss.
“Say somebody comes in with three diabetes questions a month, but I only get paid for one of them,” said Fookes. “Should I spend time talking to you?” Yet how can pharmacists turn away regular customers who depend on their advice, she wonders.
As well as paying pharmacists less for certain services, including flu shots, the Alberta government is also proposing to hold back a minimum of 10 per cent of pharmacists’ reimbursement claims every quarter until the provincial budget for pharmacy services is balanced.
Those aren’t the only concerns. Fookes said since April 1, the value of her medicinal inventory has been drastically devalued by a federal government plan that forces pharmacists to sell drugs for an artificially low price to customers, regardless of what the pharmacists had to pay to purchase these drugs.
The Alberta government is a “co-lead” on a pan-Canadian process to create health-care efficiencies and had been working with the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores to find “patient-friendly” cost savings. The NDP government plans to save $150 million through these measures, and has stated some Albertans may save $100 a year on medication costs.
But pharmacies say this federal “interference” in the free market, could lead to a drug shortage as the few companies that have agreed to sell medications for a lower cost can only produce so much. Fookes is concerned the Alberta NDP is adopting the same strategy for government sponsored drug plans, compounding the problem.
Many pharmacists question whether they can afford to hire pharmacy technicians, given the reduced compensation.
Fookes hopes Central Albertans will join the rally, or write their MLAs to complain.