Coalition working group leaning toward pharmacy liberalization

Pharmacy (picture is illustrative).
Pharmacy (picture is illustrative). Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The coalition working group on pharmacy reform is considering lifting restrictions on pharmacy ownership, which would mean that ownership in the sector would not be confined to pharmacists themselves.

Authorization of the sale of over-the-counter medicines has also been discussed, though this is unlikely to find support, ERR reports.

Pharmacy reform has been a hotly debated topic with proposed law changes which would have placed the sector firmly in the control of pharmacists themselves, rather than pharmacy chains, due to come into effect in April next year. However, following pressure from big-business pharmacy lobby groups, this seems to have foundered, though the current working group is still erring towards liberalization – just not purely for the benefit of qualified pharmacists.

"Recent debates have moved us in the direction of liberalizing the market in terms of ownership restrictions, meaning that today's ownership restrictions in pharmacies could be lifted," said social affairs committee member Priit Sibul (Isamaa) to ETV current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera.

While the state would still regulate the prices of medicines, anyone who owned the pharmacy could be the owner of the pharmacy, under the proposed changes.

Some politicians believe reforms could go even further and retain exclusive right to sell prescription drugs with the pharmacies, but also to allow over-the-counter medicines to be sold in stores and gas stations, for example. 

"We have not quite agreed on what we mean by market liberalization, but /.../ if we take both coalition parties and opposition parties in the Riigikogu, it is this kind of unrestricted, in particular unrestricted, pharmacy market that is most likely to find," said Tõnis Mölder (Centre), head of the social affairs committee.

According to Mölder, however, it has been discussed that a pharmacy as a point of sale of medicinal products should, however, fulfil certain conditions, noting the admission of medicinal products to stores could hit pharmacies in more remote areas of the country.

The original pharmacy reform, championed by the social affairs ministry, itself met criticism for the same reason, that it would decimate the sector away from the larger population centers.

Minister for Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Centre) is one person who still backs the reforms in their original incarnation: "In my opinion, this kind of non-liberalization is not justified, since the pharmacy market is part of the health care sector and the usual trade rules cannot be followed here," Kiik told Aktuaalne kaamera.

On Tuesday, the Pharmacies Association (EAÜ), representing pharmaceutical wholesalers, handed over more than 10,000 signatures opposed to the reforms to the Riigikogu. EAÜ chief Timo Danilov said the chains should retain their current pharmacies, with onl newly-established pharmacies being owned by pharmacists themselves.

"All new pharmacies might be owned by pharmacists, but in the interest of public health, in the spirit of freedom of enterprise and ownership, today's non-pharmacists could still operate in the pharmacy sector," Danilov explained.

The coalition's working group says it hopes to come forward with its proposals next week.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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