Pharmacy reform could make the sector a closed shop to newcomers, while allowing larger chains to retain their existing outlets, according to its opponents, while supporters say the reforms are inevitable.
The reforms, proposed by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Tanel Kiik (Centre), would make it a requirement that pharmacies only be operated by practicing pharmacists, rather than large chains.
Critics say the law, if it came into effect as planned, in April, would mean around 300 current pharmacies would have to close, as they don't meet the new requirements, with 80 of these being in rural areas.
Large chain representatives want to buy time
According to a report on Monday's edition of current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera, wholesale drugstore representatives are ready to talk further on the issue.
"Pharmacy reform could be altered so that all new pharmacies that are opened are owned by pharmacists, comply with the requirement of a pharmacist, but the 'old' non-pharmacist (i.e. wholesaler chains-ed.) can still operate," said board member of the Estonian Pharmacies Association (EAÜ).
Danilov said this proposal would help to mitigate the effects of the sudden closure of large numbers of outlets.
Danilov also rejected the claim that the wholesalers' proposal would essentially close the Estonian market to new pharmacy chains.
"I would categorically reject such claims. Anyone who wants to set up a drug wholesaler, a pharmacy - in the latter case they should be pharmacists - can do it. There is no obstacle," Danilov said.
Opposition MP Jürgen ligi (Reform) expressed his opposition to the change on Aktuaalne kaamera.
"This is not a good proposition anyway. Once we had three [commercial] chains, now we have two left which we should guarantee. However, the logic that a drugstore could only be in the hands of a pharmacist is wrong from the start," Ligi said.
Private pharmacists say change is inevitable
However, pharmacists' representative Karin Alama-Aasa told Aktuaalne kaamera that prolonging discussions would only cause more problems, adding that a transfer of ownership (i.e. to pharmacists themselves) was inevitable and a reflection of the fact that a true free market for pharmacy retail is not an option as it reduces the availability of medicines.
Arguments in favor of the reform have stated that more state control is needed in the sector which, paradoxically, would require practices being out into the hands of individual pharmacists rather than big business.
Tõnis Mölder, who is sponsoring pharmacy reform in the Center Party, said the current owners could retain the pharmacies that existed at the time the current law, the Pharmacy Reform Act, was passed in 2015.
"Should it be as harsh as current law says, where a sole pharmacist can own only a 51-percent stake in a pharmacy," Mölder asked.
The coalition working group on pharmacy reform is to meet again this week, with pharmacists and pharmacy chain representatives talking to Tanel Kiik.
Editor: Andrew Whyte