Aspcets of a Conservative People's Party of Estonia's (EKRE) pharmacy reform bill, in particular its explanatory notes, are virtually a carbon copy of a bill tabled by the Reform Party in 2018, according to Baltic News Service. Reform nonetheless now opposes this bill.
The bill and its explanatory remarks opposing changes to pharmacy ownership along the lines of the government's proposed reforms refer to the same laws, studies and statements and structured in almost he same way as the Reform version, a report in daily Postimees said.
The EKRE draft legislation even contains a sentence which was true in 2018, but now no longer is, the paper found, where it states that the justice minister had clearly expressed a position that laws must only be amended where it is clearly essential.
According to BNS, that sentence refers to a statement by former justice minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa); current justice minister Raivo Aeg, also from Isamaa, has made no such statement.
Pharmacy reform as it stands is aimed to come into effect April 1, and will shift greater control of the sector to dispensing pharmacists, at least in theory, by requiring them to hold at least a 51 percent stake in a pharmacy, and away from the large wholesalers and their associated chains.
An attempt to reverse this was made late last year as the coalition government by turns scrapped the original reforms and replaced them with a bill which would have favored the larger pharma companies, This was however rejected by the Riigikogu just before Christmas.
EKRE hastily drafted its own bill, also supported by Center MP Jaanus Karilaid, which would once again reverse the planned reforms if it passed, last week. The Social Democratic Party (SDE) tabled a bill on the same day, which would tweak the "official" reform and make its requirements a little less stringent.
Postimees was unable to reach those who reportedly drafted the EKRE bill, finance minister Martin Helme and his financial adviser Lasse Lehis, on Tuesday, though EKRE MP Urmas Espenberg said that there was a finite number of ways to phrase explanatory marks, due to requirements stipulating how they should be set out.
Despite the fact that the latest EKRE bill allegedly almost replicates a Reform Party bill from 2018, the latter, in opposition while EKRE are in the coalition, opposes the EKRE bill, according to BNS.
Reform MP: Standard practice
Reform MP Hanno Pevkur, who headed up the 2018 bill's draft, said that the main sticking point with EKRE's version is that it aims to grant pharmacies the right to buy medicines directly from manufacturers, as opposed to using the major Estonian wholesalers.
"I am not certain EKRE has looked into the obligations wholesalers are presently subject to and whether or not they would also apply to retailers if they start purchasing pharmaceuticals directly from manufacturers," Pevkur said. The section is one of two original sections in the bill which were not in Reform's original 2018 draft, according to BNS.
Major wholesalers of pharmaceuticals in Estonia include Magnum Medical, which supplies the Apotheka chain, and Tamro, which supplies Benu pharmacies.
Hanno Pevkur said that such cut-and-paste approaches were not unheard of, either.
"I have seen it before on several occasions where the opposition submits a bill largely based on information provided by a ministry, then the government finds it unsuitable, and instead later proposes a bill of its own. As this bill, too, originates from the ministry, the explanatory remarks are the same," Pevkur said.
Reform was in opposition when it drafted the 2018 bill; the implication is that the explanatory remarks came from the same ministry, i.e. the finance ministry, regardless of whether it was a coalition or an opposition party behind its tabling.
However, Pevkur qualified his comments by saying that his/Reform's own bill had not been based on ministry data, but that he had compiled it himself, in conjucntion with other bodies.
"During the drafting of the bill I met with both the Competition Authority as well as with the market participants," he added, in effect saying that EKRE had, whether knowingly or not, adopted a Reform Party bill.
Jaanus Karilaid, the Center Party MP who supports the EKRE bill, noted that Reform's bill from 2018 was sound, and that the party had disowned it to score political points.
As well as adding in the option for pharmacies to buy direct rather than from wholesalers, EKRE also added a provision for hospitals to have pharmaceuticals retail rights. The precise rationale behind these additions has not been provided, however, according to BNS.
Editor: Andrew Whyte