EKRE pharmacy bill introduces two new ideas

Ege Tamm
, reporter
Pharmacy. Photo: Dmitri Kotjuh / Järva Teataja

The Conservative People’s Party’s (EKRE) pharmacy reform bill would abolish the current reform’s ownership restriction, give hospital pharmacies the right to sell to individuals and allow pharmacies to procure medicinal products by bypassing Estonian pharmaceuticals wholesalers. EKRE deputy chair, Minister of Finance Martin Helme says that the party wants to hand the bill over to the Riigikogu on Thursday. Even though EKRE’s coalition partners do not deem the move sensible, Helme is sure the bill will pass.

How far along is your pharmacy bill?

It is being prepared. It is not a lengthy or complicated bill. Legal text makes up just half a page, plus the explanatory memo. We aim to hand it over on Thursday.

Who will put it together?

Our Riigikogu group basically.

What does your bill add to the debate in terms of new proposals?

Next to abolishing the current limitations – the ownership restriction and separating wholesalers from retailers – our bill proposes giving medical institutions the right of operating their own pharmacies on the retail market.

Plus allowing pharmacies to procure drugs outside Estonian wholesalers that would solve the problem of drug shortages caused by wholesalers failing to cut favorable deals with manufacturers.

Abolishing the restrictions failed in the Riigikogu in December. Why do you think it will be different this time?

Because April 1, when over half of Estonian pharmacies are set to close shop, has inched closer and perhaps people have started thinking more about their voters and less about playing parliamentary games.

Most of the pharmacies that would be closed are in cities.

That is a half-truth. We have 35 smaller settlements that would be left without a pharmacy. Also, I still cannot understand why I should have half as many pharmacies in Mustamäe.

Your coalition partners Isamaa and Center have voiced skepticism regarding the bill.

One reason is that they still remember the pain of the December vote. One part of this pain is the fact their factions are split.

We want this vote to be free both inside factions and on the coalition-opposition level. I believe it would produce a different result.

Is this not a pointless effort?

Certainly not.

What matters most to us is making sure around 150 pharmacies do not just disappear come April. There is no sensible reason for that to happen. This whole rhetoric of making life difficult for a few wholesalers by limiting people’s access to medicines.

It is a matter of drug prices. The National Audit Office finds that medicines would become cheaper if wholesalers would be separated from the retail level.

I cannot see that. I have not understood where this logic is coming from. Prices can be brought down with the help of two things: price regulation or competition. Right now, we are seeing attempts to limit competition (by not allowing wholesalers to run pharmacies – E. T.).

Why not support Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik’s (Center) proposal of entering the reform into force gradually?

Because it would simply be dragging it out. Politically speaking, it’s suffering the same pain several times, having to explain to voters why their pharmacy disappeared not one but three times.