The Social Affairs Committee, dealing with the submission of the bills, gave the go ahead to all three on Monday. They will be sent for their first readings on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
Should all three bills pass their first reading, the usual amendment period of five working days will be shortened, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.
Of the three bills, one was submitted by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), which is in office, and two by members of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE).
Of the two SDE bills, one was submitted by former leader Jevgeni Ossinovski, together with former health minister Riina Sikkut and MP Helmen Kütt.
One of this bill's main aims is to soften the landing of the proposed government reform, extending the requirement that pharmacies be at least 51 percent owned by the dispensing pharmacists that run them to the end of the year, rather than going into immediate effect on April 1.
Critics of the government's plan, which has its roots in the Medicines Act of five years ago, say that the requirement could lead to large-scale closures, particularly in smaller population centers, since many pharmacies will not meet the requirements in time.
EKRE's bill would liberalize the market, allowing hospitals to run their own retail pharmacies, import medicines and not be tied to Estonian wholesalers, and loosen restrictions of pharmacy management structures.
"The most fundamental thing was that we, as the Social Affairs Committee, did not formulate a position on any of the drafts, but instead let the final drafting of this opinion be in the [Riigikogu's] Great Hall," social affairs committee chair Tõnis Mölder (Center) told ERR on Monday.
The Center Party itself had discussed the topic on Monday morning, and is set to do so again on Wednesday.
Center Party discussing position
"As a group, we have a relatively unanimous position on what the opposition [SDE] has tabled," Mölder said, adding that there are no supporters within the Center Party group.
"But with regard to the EKRE bill, there are both supporters and opponents. We want to develop a more coherent position on Wednesday," Mölder added.
Center is the largest party in the coalition but faced strong opposition to the reforms, including from lobby groups from the large pharmaceuticals wholesalers, who operate retail chains including Apotheka and Benu.
The government actually ripped up its planned reform late in 2019 to replace it with a bill which would have placed control firmly back in the hands of the wholesalers/chains, but this was voted down at the Riigikogu in one of the last actions before the Christmas recess.
Isamaa would accept EKRE's proposed pharmacy liberalization
Of the third coalition party, Isamaa, Riigikogu grouping party chair Priit Sibul said that the position had not changed since the December vote, namely that Isamaa supports only those aspects in the rival bills which concern removal of ownership restrictions in amendments to the Medicines Act, in other words the core of the "official" governmental reform.
"Perhaps from April 1, an owner should be a pharmacist and wholesalers should not own any pharmacies. We are ready to dispense with these restrictions. One draft contains this – EKRE's –and to that extent we are ready to support these aspects," said Sibul.
If none of the three drafts pass, current law will remain in place, the reforms remain on track as the government planned and, as of April 1, only dispensing pharmacists can have majority control of the pharmacies.
The explanatory memorandum of EKRE's bill was reportedly in parts verbatim the same as a Reform Party bill from 2018.
Editor: Andrew Whyte