Pharmacists rally against HSE scheme

PHARMACISTS fear they will go out of business if the Health Service Executive presses ahead in cutting the wholesale mark-up on drugs dispensed under the medical card scheme next month.

More than 140 pharmacists resumed providing methadone treatment to about 3,000 recovering addicts last month when talks chairman Bill Shipsey SC expressed confidence that real progress could be made in negotiations if they called off their protest.

But IPU official, Darragh O’Loughlin, said no significant breakthrough had been made in the talks since then and pharmacists were now deeply worried about the impact of new arrangements being introduced on December 1.

Their financial advisors were telling them that the new arrangement would mean that they could not afford to deliver medicines under the medical card scheme, he said.

Negotiations between the legal teams chaired by Mr Shipsey are continuing in a bid to try and agree on a negotiation mechanism but Mr O’Loughlin said he was not optimistic that a settlement could be reached by the December deadline.

Health Minister Mary Harney last night attended a dinner in Dublin hosted by the IPU during which their president, Michael Guckian called for the suspension of the December deadline. The HSE has said it would not be reversing its decision. It pointed out that wholesalers have given the HSE categoric assurances that retailers would not be charged more than they were reimbursed by the health authority.

Mr O’Loughlin said the agreement was now coming like a train down a track towards pharmacists and that pharmacists would find it impossible to supply medicines under the medical card next month.

He said some pharmacists had been warned by their financial advisors that they would come under severe financial pressure as a result of the change.

There were pharmacies where the bulk, if not all, of the business they transacted was with the HSE.

“If they are expected to provide those medicines at prices below the prices that they actually paying to buy them, it simply cannot be done,” said Mr O’Loughlin.

“Until the HSE lifts the threat of that guillotine from pharmacists, the danger remains,” he added.

He said the HSE was proposing to pay almost 92% of the wholesale price of the medicine, plus the dispensing fee of €3.26.

“Where a medicine costs €50, pharmacists will be reimbursed €45, plus the €3.26 fee. So they will actually be down €2,” he pointed out. “Where medicines are expensive, pharmacists will get paid less than the cost of them.”

The IPU had hoped to be involved in constructive talks where both sides could agree that the fees to be paid would be fair and equitable.

“We have not been involved in talks like that,” said Mr O’Loughlin.

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