With drug costs representing the second biggest reason Ontario faces out of control health costs, the move by Premier Dalton McGuinty to tame these expenses seems prudent in the face of record budget deficits.
However, the reaction by pharmacy owners is a malicious, spiteful attempt to use ordinary people as pawns in a political battle driven by greed.
When Shoppers Drug Mart posted record profits of $585 million in the past year, during the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, it gets a bit hard to shed a tear for them or any other major drug retailer.
The Liberal government’s plan to cut generic drug reimbursements in half to 25 per cent of their price from 50 per cent will make a huge difference to consumers and save nearly a half billion dollars for taxpayers.
Originally published: April 21, 2010
The response by the industry is punitive. Almost immediately, Shoppers reacted by cutting store hours and threatening fewer services, including consultations. What is most horrific about this response is that it flies in the face of Ontario College of Pharmacists’ own code of ethics, which places service to patients above all else.
Still, this is not the first time the Ontario government has taken these kinds of steps. In 2006, it set the current rebate rate of 50 per cent. Pharmacies protested then, but the sector actually thrived, with 140 more stores now than before the change.
What is disturbing is the lack of innovation in the approach of these businesses. Many other sectors face hard changes in the volatile modern marketplace. The rising value of the Canadian dollar, the unfair trade practices of international business and so forth, represent an economic reality. The ever-changing environment means organizations must be flexible and think outside the box to respond to these demands.
So, instead of rising to the challenge, pharmacies callously target customers. It is so hard to believe the few minutes a pharmacist spends with a customer to assist them in understanding their prescription is so devastating. Or to walk out from behind a counter to help someone with advice on a produce is killing the bottom line. And, the few extra minutes it takes to create blister packs for certain patients should not be a burden if customer service is at the heart of a business rather than profit.
This is a perfect time for a true entrepreneur, someone who sees the opportunity to push out those who forget that running a business is about service, not entitlement. Nobody is owned a living. They earn it. Just ask the countless workers who see their pay cut, colleagues laid off and workplace demands skyrocket. Welcome to reality.
As for dispensing fees, there are already some pharmacies that waive them. If they are smart, they will continue to do so. Maybe, it will become a competitive advantage worthy of advertising to capture additional business.
If the large retailers have to close locations, then it will open an opportunity for someone else to move in. If someone cuts his or her hours, then maybe someone else will extend his or hers to meet the market demand. And, if others choose to charge for deliver, then a competitor can offer it free. This is how capitalism is meant to work.
All the same, if pharmacies wish to fight over these changes, so be it. But, owners should stop making customers pay. And, as consumers, we would be wise to show our displeasure by taking our business elsewhere. Such an action would teach a necessary lesson to those in power and reward those willing to place us first.
When will big businesses learn they must serve Main Street, not Bay Street?