Major pharmacy chain quits wholesaler lobby group to prepare for reforms ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

A Euroapteek branch in the Priisle neighborhood of Lasnamäe,
A Euroapteek branch in the Priisle neighborhood of Lasnamäe, Source: Euroapteek

Pharmacy chain Euroapteek is leaving the Estonian Pharmacies Association (EAÜ), taking itself out of political processes around the government's pharmacy reform planned for April 1.

Euroapteek, Estonian arm of the international Euroapotheca group, says it is making the move ahead of structural reforms. It will continue providing full pharmacy services should the planned changes take effect, BNS reports.

"The pharmacy reform process has failed completely," Oksana Kostogriz, chair of Euroapteek's management board said.

"The present bill is to take effect in less than two months, and neither the EAÜ nor the politicians have been able to find a reasonable solution to the situation."

See-sawing reform process

The EAÜ broadly represents the larger pharmacy wholesalers and their associated chains, and has such had been opposed to the government's reforms – which have been on the table over the tenure of three different administrations and two prime ministers since 2015 – which aim to take control away from the larger wholesalers and place them more in the hands of individual dispensing pharmacists, who are required to own a minimum 51 percent stake in the outlets they work in.

Kostogriz said that the entire reform plan as it stands should be scrapped and rewritten with the interested parties involve

"We are essentially in a situation where a bill is about to step into effect that's not deemed desirable by either any of the market participants or the state," she said, adding that the content of the motions to amend the bill submitted to the Riigikogu have varied from one extreme to another.

The government did indeed scrap the reforms before Christmas, only for the replacement bill, which would have swung the initiative back to larger wholesalers like Magnum Medical, which owns and supplies the ApoteekaX chain, and Tamro, which runs Benu pharmacies, to be voted down in one of the Riigikogu's last actions before the Christmas break, reinstating the government, social affairs ministry-sponsored reforms.

The government did indeed scrap the reforms before Christmas, only for the replacement bill, which would have swung the initiative back to larger wholesalers like Magnum Medical, which owns and supplies the Apotheka chain, and Tamro, which runs Benu pharmacies, to be voted down in one of the Riigikogu's last actions before the Christmas break, reinstating the government, social affairs ministry-sponsored reforms.

Since then both the governmental Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) have tabled their own rival bills. EKRE's looked in parts suspiciously like a 2018 bill tabled by the opposition, broadly free market-supporting Reform Party, plus a couple of extra requirements including allowing pharmacies to import medicines. SDE's reform proposals softened the blow of the switch having to happen literally overnight, ready for the April 1 deadline, phasing it in through the course of the year.

Critics have said that the reforms as they are could decimate the sector in smaller settlements; as it stands less than 200 of Estonia's roughly 600 pharmacies currently comply with the reforms.

Euroapteek: Reforms themselves turn clocks back

Kostogriz said that the reform itself is already five years behind its time, referring to remarks made to ERR that stopping the reforms now would turn the clock back five years.

"Now that there is so little time left until the reform takes effect, we should stop and really reconsider how to resolve the situation in a reasonable way,"  Kostogriz said, according to BNS.

Euroapteek added that the EAÜ itself had failed to defend end-users' rights. 

"Offering customers affordable medicines still remains our aim. For some reason the state and the EAÜ have forgotten that goal," Kostogriz said.

The present priority at Euroapteek, which runs just over 70 pharmacies in Estonia, is to carry out internal structural changes over the next few months to ensure its pharmacy network remains operational, the company claims.

Related issues in the pharmacy reform question include the right of hospitals to operate dispensing pharmacies, and for over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen to be on sale in supermarkets, kiosks and the like.

Critics have also said that the larger chains will not relinquish control of their outlets until literally the eleventh hour, making April 1 a less amusing day than usual. In December, four EAÜ-affiliated chains: Apotheka, Benu, Südameapteek and Euroapteek itself, closed their pharmacies for half a day in a strike – really rather more a lockout – of their branches in an effort to highlight what they say the reforms could lead to if they are promulgated.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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