The Riigikogu's Social Affairs Committee has opted to send a draft pharmacy reform bill from the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) to its first reading at the chamber on February 25. The committee is also sending two bills from the Social Democratic Party (SDE) to the floor the day after, but with proposals that they be rejected.
The EKRE bill would amend the Medicinal Products Act to make it less restrictive to pharmacists in terms of ownership and structure, as well as permitting hospitals to run their own retail pharmacies and not be tied to domestic Estonian wholesalers. It will receive its first reading on February 25.
The two SDE bills are aimed at allowing hospital pharmacies to import medicines themselves in one case, and to allow pharmacy ownership under the government reforms due to take into effect on April 1 to be met by several pharmacists jointly owning a pharmacy, in the other case.
The SDE bills carry the recommendation from the committee that they be rejected, meaning the vote in this case, on February 26, is on whether to reject them outright, not on their actual content.
SDE has 11 seats at the Riigikogu, and is in opposition with the 34-seat Reform Party. EKRE is part of the coalition on 19 seats, together with the Center Party (25 seats) and Isamaa (12 seats).
Chair of the Social Affairs Committee is Tõnis Mölder (Center).
All three bills make amends to the "official" government reform, the latter following the requirements of the Medicinal Products Act, passed five years ago, which would transfer ownership of pharmacies nominally from larger wholelase chains to dispensing pharmacists.
Critics of the reforms say that they would lead to wide-scale closures, particularly hitting smaller population centers, since fewer than 200 of Estonia's nearly 600 outlets currently meet the requirements.
One of three major wholesaler chains, Magnum Medical – which operates the Apotheka chain – has said it concedes defeat on the ownership and will transfer to the dispensing pharmacists come April 1. Magnum's owner, Margus Linnamäe, has said he will seek damages from the state, however.
The two other wholesalers, Tamro, which runs the Benu chain, and Pharma Holding OÜ, which runs the Südameapteek chain, have said they will wait and see what the outcome of the three rival bills is before deciding.
Another option mentioned is for chains to issue franchises, where the franchisees were dispensing pharmacists. Linnamäe has said this could be one, unenforced method of transfer.
An earlier bill reversing the reform's course back in favor of the large chains was voted down at the Riigikogu just before Christmas.
Should any of the bills pass their first reading, they would then need a second reading, at the 101-seat Riigikogu. Bills once passed have to be signed by President Kersti Kaljulaid, who can also reject bills and send them back to the parliament. Legal challenges can also be mounted by the Chancellor of Justice, Ülle Madise, in which case the Supreme Court makes the ultimate decision.
Editor: Andrew Whyte