Liberals capitalize on pharmacy dispute
Leader promises to negotiate directly with independent pharmacy owners
Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward and the party’s candidate in Trinity-Bay de Verde, Barry Snow, appears to have scored some points on the contentious issue that is currently pitting independent pharmacy owners against the provincial government.
During a rally outside Tri-Con Pharmacy in Old Perlican on Thursday, Sept. 29, some 40-plus people, including four pharmacists from three independent pharmacies in the district, gathered to vent their anger at incumbent MHA Charlene Johnson and the Progressive Conservative government.
“I hope Barry Snow gets in so we can keep our drugstore,” Mary Ann O’Rielly of Bay de Verde shouted during the rally.
Aylward won support from the crowd by promising to negotiate directly with the Council of Independent Community Pharmacy Owners (CICPO), something the current government has refused to do.
“ They have whole range of ideas about how to reform our pharmacare system. We would work with them as a partner,” Aylward told reporters.
“ We would recognize them as a separate group and do a separate negotiation and work to (deliver) more efficient services to the public.”
Current legislation permits the Pharmacists Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL) to negotiate financial contracts with government on behalf of the independent owners.
CICPO has launched legal action, seeking to have changes made to the Newfoundland Pharmacy Act, arguing that PANL is merely an advocacy association for pharmacists.
The dispute started making headlines in late June, when CICPO gave 30 days notice of their intent to withdraw from the province’s prescription drug program, which subsidizes drug costs for residents, based on income. The province responded in late July by passing legislation, increasing the notice to 120 days.
CICPO members have since abandoned plans to withdraw from the program, but tensions remain high, with suggestions that some independent pharmacies may be forced to close unless they can get a better deal with the government.
“ We have been paid the same money for 20 years,” said pharmacist David Jenkins, co-owner of Tri-Con Pharmacy.
“If I was a customer out there using independent pharmacies, I’d be very concerned about having to travel 45 or 50 minutes to Jerome Kennedy’s district to the big box stores to get my medication. That’s very well might happen if this goes through,” he added.
Jenkins said the Liberal promise “offers hope” and “ we look forward to hopefully having Barry Snow as our representative in this district. He’s a real voice for rural Newfoundland.”
When asked about his political background, Jenkins said he has voted PC in the last two elections.
“Now it comes down to what I want to do for my patients. Do I want to see them having to spend extra money to get their medication, travelling to Carbonear, sometimes deciding to do without because they can’t afford the trip? I have to be a voice for my patients, and for myself.”
That scenario worries 78-year-old Susan Mansfield of Old Perlican
“I got no transportation,” she said. “If I don’t have the money when I want to get drugs, they let me have it until my cheque
I haven’t heard a lot of it at the door. In my two weeks of knocking on doors, I probably
got it three times.
Mansfield said such personal service cannot be offered at “ big box” stores in larger centres.
Johnson was campaigning in Old Perlican at the time of the rally, and spoke to reporters at a nearby restaurant.
She said she had facilitated a meeting between several independent pharmacists from the region and Health Minister Jerome Kennedy, but it never took place.
“ They declined because they wanted to bring along Sue Kelland-Dyer (executive director for CICPO), and that’s not what we offered. They’re trying to say I wouldn’t meet with them, but the offer was put out there and they declined,” Johnson said.
Johnson didn’t seem worried that the issue would impact her at the polling booth on Oct. 11.
“I haven’t heard a lot of it at the door. In my two weeks of knocking on doors, I probably got it three times,” she said.
Johnson said the government cannot negotiate separately with rural pharmacists, no more than it can with rural doctors.
“ The reality is we need to work towards a formula that works for the pharmacies, for taxpayers and for government.”