Riigikogu social affairs committee chair Tõnis Mölder (Center) says that he has pointed out many times in the past the risk that the state runs of incurring significant damage claims as a result of the coalition's pharmacy reforms due to enter into effect on April 1.
Mölder's words followed an announcement Friday by Margus Linnamäe, owner of pharmaceuticals chain Magnum Medical, that he would be claiming damages – to an amount as yet unstated – resulting from the forced transferal of majority control of retail pharmacies supplied by Magnum to dispensing pharmacists working in the outlets.
"We also referred to this in the bill discussed by the Riigikogu at the end of last year," Mölder said, according to BNS.
"This step cannot come as a surprise to any of the parties. All entrepreneurs have the right to take the state to court when they feel that they have been treated unfairly. Estonia is governed by the rule of law and the decision in such cases is made by the court. I would not rule out more such claims for damages by other market participants, either," the MP added.
The government's reforms, now seemingly back on track after several challenges, including one in the form of a bill which would have reversed the reforms' course had it not been voted down at the Riigikogu just before Christmas, require pharmacies be at least 51 percent-owned by the dispensing pharmacists who work there. Critics say this will decimate the sector particularly in smaller centers of population, as less than a third of Estonia's nearly 600 pharmacies currently comply with the requirements, less than two months before the law comes into effect.
Tõnis Mölder also said that the decision by Magnum to give in on control over its pharmacies is undoubtedly a noble step, one which will help prevent the mass closure of pharmacies on April 1.
Margus Linnamäe and Magnum's associated pharmacy chain is Apotheka, Terve Pere Apteek OÜ. Linnamäe also owns Postimees Grupp, publisher of daily Postimees and many other publications, and the Apollo Group, an entertainment group responsible for bringing KFC to Estonia.
Decision best for the people needed
"What definitely needs to be analyzed is whether or not and to what extent this decision improves the availability of medicines," Molder said, adding that it is regrettable that the Ministry of Social Affairs has not been able to provide any suitable solutions for the successful implementation of the reforms over the past four years (the reforms are a requirement of an act passed nearly five years, and three governments, ago-ed.).
"The Riigikogu has repeatedly pointed out that the Ministry of Social Affairs has not fulfilled the task it was given, which was to analyze the effects of the pharmacy reform more broadly," Molder said, adding that he while ongoing Riigikogu debate is vital, it is unlikely that the majority decision will be in the interests of the people.
Of possible alternatives on the table, Mölder said he found the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) bill most attractive, though he had had a hand in its drafting in any case.
The EKRE bill, submitted last week, would reverse the course of the ownership issue, leaving it in the hands of the wholesalers, but at the same time give hospitals the right to import their medicines and to run their own retail pharmacies, thus in theory freeing them from the large wholesalers.
In any event, the bill did not threaten the "official" governmental reforms, Mölder said.
"We are broadly in agreement. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said that a government-level debate has no place, but that parliament has to debate it. It seems that none of the three drafts submitted have broad support and that the Medicines Act will come into force as it was adopted five years ago," Mölder said, speaking on Vikerraadio politics discussion show Uudis+.
Editor: Andrew Whyte