Pharmacies warn funding cuts would put community health services at risk

TORONTO, Nov. 25 /CNW/ - With the Ontario government considering reducing elements of community pharmacy funding, pharmacies are urging the government to proceed cautiously to avoid cutting important community health care services.

"We are working with the government on ways to modernize Ontario's drug system, but there's a right way and a wrong way to do that," said Nadine Saby, President and CEO of the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores. "At a time when the population of seniors is rising and the need for community pharmacy care is increasing, we're trying to avoid unintended consequences, particularly the loss of critical heath services for seniors and people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma."

At issue is the way pharmacies are compensated for providing care and services under the current funding model. Today, most government funding for pharmacy care provided to patients covered by the Ontario Drug Benefit program (ODB) comes through dispensing fees. The ODB dispensing fee is set at $7, and has increased only 56 cents in the last 20 years. That fee does not cover the $13.77 actual cost to pharmacies of providing services for a prescription. There is no direct government funding at all for the majority of additional services pharmacies deliver.

In public comments by officials of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the government has indicated that it is considering cuts to indirect funding in the form of professional allowances from drug manufacturers, another key element of pharmacy funding under the current system.

"The government has said in the Legislature that it is not planning to reduce drug benefits under the ODB," said Ben Shenouda, President of the Independent Pharmacists of Ontario and a community pharmacist in Brampton. "But if they go ahead with cuts to indirect compensation, that would reduce funding for pharmacies just the same. Cuts are cuts are cuts. And if you cut funding, we simply can't provide the services people need."

The list of currently unfunded services is long and diverse. They range from training patients on how to manage their diabetes and avoid complications such as heart attacks and kidney failure, to blood pressure monitoring, telephone consultations with patients and their physicians, and delivery of prescriptions to seniors' homes. It is these services that pharmacies are warning would be at risk if the government introduces legislation or regulations to reduce overall pharmacy funding.

"It's a simple equation," said Tina Perlman, a community pharmacist in London, and Past Chair of the Ontario Pharmacists' Association. "Ontarians need these pharmacy services. The government values these services, because they help keep people healthy and out of hospital, and keep the cost of acute health care down. But if they cut one element of our funding without providing equivalent compensation through new direct funding, something would have to give. We wouldn't be able to afford to continue providing the level of care and services our patients rely on. That's our worry."

On August 24, 2009, Ontario's Community Pharmacies (OCPh) presented the government with a comprehensive proposal to modernize the pharmacy services and funding model. That proposal would secure $1.6 billion in cost savings for the province, and ensure continued access to and quality of pharmacy care, while shifting compensation towards more appropriate direct compensation for the health care services pharmacies provide. OCPh has since been providing additional information on services and costs to operate community pharmacies, through a joint Ministry-pharmacy working group, but the government has yet to respond to the pharmacy proposal.

The Ontario's Community Pharmacies coalition is the unified voice of community pharmacy in Ontario, representing independent owner-operated stores, "banner" groups of independently-owned stores that work together, as well as large and small pharmacy chains. The coalition is supported by the associations and organizations that represent both the profession and the neighbourhood business of pharmacy, including the Ontario Pharmacists' Association, the Independent Pharmacists of Ontario, the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores and the Ontario Chain Drug Association.


For further information: For further information: Sara Feldman, Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores, Office: (416) 226-9100 x 225; Tina Perlman, Community pharmacist, London, Ontario, (519) 854-2816; Ben Shenouda, President, Independent Pharmacists of Ontario, Mobile: (416) 566-7258

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