Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Corporate Greed Causes Health Care War in Canada

How far will the mega-large multinational pharmaceutical firms go to make a dollar? Just ask anyone in the province of Ontario, in Canada, where drug stores are cutting staff and hours, while increasing their service fees to their customers in response to the provincial governments plans to make life saving medications more affordable to residents.

The largest drug store chain in the province – Shoppers Drug Mart – announced yesterday it will cut store hours, while another major chain – Rexall (which also owns the PharmaPlus drug store chain) – will start charging for delivery (which is currently free).

Both companies say their corporate changes are a direct result of the Ontario Health Minister’s announcement last week to cut generic drug costs by at least 50 percent, to 25 percent of the original cost of the brand name drug.

The province also has plans to ban the current process where generic drug manufacturers payoff pharmacies and drug stores to encourage the distribution and sale of their products, over the brand name competitors. Pharmacists insist that these often called “allowances” are actually used to pay for extended hours and special free services, such as free delivery to seniors, blood pressure monitoring, and consultations.

Last year, these “allowances” provided a whopping $750CDN million to pharmacists.

The provincial government says these changes are necessary to shave off over $500CDN million annually from its provincial medical plans which cover drug costs for the elderly and the disabled.

What it really boils down to is corporate greed – and the large Ontario drug store chains are clearly showing that. By cutting store hours – many Shoppers Drug Mart locations are open until midnight – charging for once free services – such as delivery and consultations – and firing staff, these companies are causing more harm, when the whole essence of health care exactly the opposite.

Drug stores and pharmacies are a major part of the health care system in most of the western world, as they provide the medicines to cure and calm our illnesses and diseases. In some locals, pharmacists take the very same Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, as doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners take.

Yet these very same individuals are doing harm, by holding their customers – one might even call them their patients – hostage, because they won’t be able to continue their extreme mark-ups on generic drugs, nor will they be able to accept the generic drug firm bribes – I mean “allowances” – to ensure generic drugs are sold instead of the brand name drugs.

According to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, drugs have been overpriced in the province for too long, citing a single dose of a generic heart drug’s costs around the world as an example. The drug costs just two-cents in New Zealand, a dime in the United States of America, but 50-cents in Ontario.

The premier has a point – how come the very same drug costs so little elsewhere, but so much more here?

Corporate greed.

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