Reform Party MP and former government minister Hanno Pevkur says that if the government's pharmacy reforms lead to shortages of supply due to pharmacy closure, with people not getting access to drugs, his party would hold social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) responsible.
"I don't think it's necessary for the state to say who owns a pharmacy," Pevkur said, speaking on ERR broadcast "Otse uudistemajast" on Wednesday.
"But the state has to tell who's behind the counter, who's selling [products], and how the prices are regulated. In fact, to get cheaper prices, you would have to liberalize the wholesale market. This is where the prices of medicines are actually fixed in a lot of ways, and in the same way, I think it would help greatly to bring down prices if lighter painkillers were available in regular stores. My point has been this and it hasn't changed. I abstained [from the vote on the EKRE bill]," Pevkur went on.
One aspect of discussions on the reforms, due to take effect on April 1, has been permitting over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen and aspirin to be sold in kiosks, supermarkets and the like.
Pevkur also said his party's opposition to the government's reform is primarily due to problems with wholesaler issues, together with the fact that time is running out.
Pevkur noted that while the reforms as they are come into effect on schedule, this was unlikely to mean widespread catastrophe, but if some people end up without access to medicines, the Minister of Social Affairs – Tanel Kiik (Center) – will have to bear some responsibility.
"I do believe that today's pharmacists are not so cold-hearted that they would not deliver drugs to people. I doubt there will be a major catastrophe, but in any case the current owners (i.e. the wholesalers-ed.) have the right to at least consider whether to go to court against the state," he continued."
"They have been put in a position by the state where they have to give up their property. Under the Estonian constitution, property rights are actually protected. Nothing will happen on April 1. Even if the owners leave the pharmacies, the State Agency of Medicines (Raviamet) has the ability to prescribe, whether the closure of pharmacies if forced or not," he added.
The scheduled reforms require transfer of ownership to dispensing pharmacists, and away from larger wholesaler chains. Critics say this will lead to widespread closures, particularly in smaller centers of population, as many of Estonia's nearly 600 pharmacies do not currently comply with this requirement.
Pevkur abstained from EKRE bill vote
One pharmacy magnate, Margus Linnamäe, owner of Magnum Medical and the associated Apotheka pharmacy chain, has already said he will seek damages from the state once he has had to hand over control under the new regime.
"If the current owners are not willing to sell or remodel their property, then there is a real danger that we will have over 300 non-compliant pharmacies," Pevkur continued.
EKRE's bill would have amended 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.
The bill's explanatory memorandum was in part verbatim the same as a Reform Party bill from 2018, according to reports.
While most Reform MPs voted against the EKRE draft, which was rejected on Wednesday by 46 votes to 42, Pevkur himself, along with party-mates former finance minister Jürgen Ligi, and MP Heiki Kranich, abstained from the vote (along with six other abstentions).
If people left without medicines on April 1, social affairs minister must carry the can
Pevkur would not be drawn on whether closures, shortages etc. would lead to a no-confidence vote in Tanel Kiik, however.
"This is very difficult to predict right now. Once the reform has been in place for some time, the real consequences will then be seen and then we will decide whether we will make our own draft to remedy this urgently, or to take a critical stance towards the Minister of Social Affairs. If the people of Estonia are left without medication, then we are in a position where there is such a great risk to human health that we must first consider measures to resolve the matter. If the minister cannot take action to resolve that situation, then of course, the Minister of Social Affairs must take political responsibility," he said.
Pevkur's future in the Reform Party
Hanno Pevkur also recently said that he would quit the Reform Party to take up a post as head of the European Volleyball League (CEV), if the offer were made. Elections to the post are in June.
Elections to Reform's chair as well as its board take place in late March, with only current leader, Kaja Kallas, having put her name forward for (re)election; Pevkur said that this was likely to remain the case.
"I am not a candidate for the Reform Party chair, and I think Kaja Kallas will stand alone when she applies," Pevkur said.
As to his volleyball plans, Pevkur said he was not looking for a way out of politics, but rather because he had said that if he took up the post, he had promised to step down from politics.
"It's not a matter of finding a way out of politics, but rather that I have invested quite a lot in developing volleyball in Estonia. For the last four years, I have also been responsible for European and world volleyball, as Vice President for Development, and as a board member The issues we face today in the volleyball world are quite critical," he continued.
"It is by no means guaranteed that I will get to this place. Elections are always elections, and it must be admitted that the presiding president will have some advantages.
It will be clear on June 19 in Moscow, whether [current CEV chief] Aleksandar Boricic … will continue as president or whether European volleyball will start a new era, with Hanno Pevkur," he said.
Hanno Pevkur was a government minister under two Reform Party prime ministers, serving as justice minister and social affairs minister under Andrus Ansip, and interior minister under Taavi Rõivas.
He was touted as a possible Reform Party leader in 2017, though stepped aside to let Kaja Kallas run for the position, in December of that year.
Several MPs and former ministers have stepped down from politics in recent months, usually to take up posts in the private sector, including Urve Palo, a former entrepreneurship minister who was in the Social Democratic Party and had already left in 2018 to sit as an independent MP, Kaia Iva, formerly Isamaa's social protection minister (who also left the party, due to opposition to its pension reform policy) and former Reform MP Anne Sulling.
Editor: Andrew Whyte