MPs of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) parliamentary group have submitted amendments to the pharmacy reform bill according to which pharmacies would be granted the right to purchase drugs from sources other than Estonian wholesalers and the right to sell drugs would be expanded to hospitals and family doctor centers as well. The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) also submitted its own alternative bill.
With its proposed changes, EKRE wants to avoid a mass closure of pharmacies this spring as well as improve the accessibility of drugs and increase competition.
According to EKRE deputy chairman Martin Helme, the pharmacy reform passed under a Reform government and slated to enter into force in April 2020 will not fulfill its objective.
"Wholesalers would remain in control of the market, but 120-150 pharmacies across Estonia are threatened with closure," Helme said. "We don't agree with the accessibility of drugs and the quality of pharmacy services being reduced following the reform. The goal of our proposed amendments is to put a stop to pharmacies' dependence on Estonian wholesalers and generate free competition on the pharmaceutical market."
Under EKRE's proposed changes, the circle of individuals with the right to import and export drugs to and from Estonia would increase — this right would be granted to pharmacy service providers as well as healthcare service providers, i.e. hospitals and family doctor centers.
Another proposed change would repeal the current system, according to which hospital pharmacies do not have the right to retail pharmaceutical sales. As a result of the change, hospital pharmacies would have the right to sell drugs to both hospital patients and other individuals.
EKRE would also repeal the clause according to which pharmacies may only procure pharmaceuticals from companies that possess a license for either the production or the wholesale trade of pharmaceuticals or from other pharmacies. As a result of the change, pharmacies would be able to purchase drugs directly from producers or from foreign wholesalers as well.
A fourth proposal would repeal restrictions on pharmacy ownership structures. EKRE believes that current ownership restrictions are fundamentally not working, as market participants are using schemes to adapt to the pharmacy reform that are in reality only proper in legal terms.
"By implementing these changes, we would achieve a pharmacy reform that reduces pharmaceutical wholesalers' grip, improves drug accessibility and that ultimately has a positive effect on ensuring public health," Helme concluded.
SDE wants extended transition period for compliance
The SDE submitted an alternative bill of amendments as well, signed by Jevgeni Ossinovski, Riina Sikkut and Helmen Kütt.
According to the bill, the State Agency of Medicines would be granted the right to extend the transition period for compliance with new requirements to January 1, 2021 in those areas where the risk exists that not a single pharmacy will qualify as compliant as of April 1. This would ensure that not a single village, town or borough would end up without a single operating pharmacy beginning April 1.
Lawmakers have been given a false choice, Ossinovski said, handing in the bill in the Session Hall of the Riigikogu.
"As our drug distribution companies to this day have not wanted to bring their activities into compliance in accordance with the passed bill over the past five years, then there is nothing to do — the state has to get on its knees, go back to wholesalers and, like Leopold the Cat, say please forgive us, Leopold, we won't do that again," Ossinovski said. "And if that doesn't happen, the dozens of towns and villages will go without pharmacies as of April 1. We already saw in December that they are indeed prepared to do so. But this is a false choice. It is actually possible for the state to assert itself, prove that it isn't the hostage of a couple of entrepreneurs, and at the same time actually minimize the risk of anyone going without their meds on April 1. And the minister of social affairs provided such proposals."
The chair of the Social Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, however, expressed their unwillingness to handle these proposals, he noted.
"We hope that the Social Affairs Committee will address these two bills in parallel, as they are two alternative visions of how to resolve the same problem," Ossinovski concluded.
Editor: Aili Vahtla