The Riigikogu Social Affairs Committee is set to discuss the pharmacy reform at two meetings this week but might not get to voting, chairman Tõnis Mölder (Center) said.
The Tuesday meeting saw representatives of the State Agency of Medicines and Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik attend and give an overview of where they perceive the pharmacy reform debate is today. The three bills entered into Riigikogu proceedings were not discussed and will be the subject of the meeting to take place on Thursday.
Mölder told ERR that these overviews produced quite a few problems – there are still 308 pharmacies that do not meet the reform's requirements and 35 settlements where pharmacy services might disappear from April 1.
"What the medicines agency said was that they can see certain developments lately where various companies have set about registering themselves as pharmacies that are run by dispensing pharmacists, and I believe it is a huge problem. While I'm not a great fan of the reform, having pharmacist-run pharmacies that depend heavily on wholesalers hardly corresponds with the spirit of the reform. Pharmacies that would look legal on paper but would be much less independent in real life," Mölder said.
The committee looked at all 15 counties to determine whether some areas are worse off than others. Mölder said that Harju and Valga counties are the most problematic, the former looking at losing over 100 pharmacies. He added that it is difficult to forecast whether problems will materialize after April 1.
"We have nothing to go on other than statistics and facts in terms of whether anything has changed recently. And we are not seeing any positive change today, meaning the problem is still very much there," the MP explained.
The sitting on Thursday will look at three pharmacy reform bills in proceedings, with representatives of their authors, the minister and the medicines agency summoned. The committee will first hear the thoughts of the bills' authors and then discuss their contents, while Mölder could not say whether the deliberation would culminate in a vote.
The next regular meeting of the social affairs committee will likely take place on Monday, which is when the debate will continue provided no result is produced this week. Mölder regarded such a scenario as the more likely one as many nuances and ideas require greater clarity and a comment from the medicines board.
There are three bills to amend Estonia's pharmacy reform passed in 2015 and set to enter into force on April 1. Two are by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) and on by the coalition Conservative People's Party (EKRE).
The latter's proposals include abolishing the ownership restriction that currently stipulates majority stakes in pharmacies must be held by licensed pharmacists from April 1 and that pharmaceutical wholesalers are prohibited from owning pharmacies.
The newer bill by the social democrats from January would provide for a transitional period for pharmacies in rural areas and those that do not meet requirements, introduce softer pharmacist owner requirements and give hospital pharmacies the right to import and retail medicinal products.
Editor: Marcus Turovski