Ljubljana – The parliamentary Health Committee confirmed on Thursday changes to the pharmacy practice act, albeit in a significantly changed format than originally envisaged. Many of the articles were deleted from the wording, while the proposal to lift the ban on vertical integration of pharmacies and drug wholesalers was retained.
The bill was tabled by the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) in February and passed first reading in June, and among other things featured a proposal to change the criteria for setting up the pharmacy network.
The SMC’s proposal looked to allow opening new pharmacies or subsidiaries within a distance shorter than 400 metres in urban areas and at least five kilometres in other areas.
This prompted practically all pharmacy stakeholders to urge MPs to vote down the changes, saying that should this not happen, there is the possibility of protest closures of pharmacies and a referendum.
They argued that this could result in pharmacy closures and there is fear that new pharmacies would open in urban areas, where the network is already extensive, and close in rural areas.
During today’s debate, many additional amendments were filed, including from the SMC, and MPs also proposed that almost all original articles of the changes be deleted.
The option of vertical integration of pharmacies and drug wholesalers, which was banned with a law passed under the SMC-led government in 2016 but has not yet been fully implemented, was meanwhile retained in a slightly different form.
The relevant provision was submitted by the opposition Left and Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and the unaffiliated MPs, gaining support also from the SMC.
It stipulates that a self-governing local community can establish a drug supplier that must be in its exclusive ownership, while it does not need to meet the condition of that the share of its work tasked by the self-governing local community must amount to at least 80%.
Profit from the operation of such organisations can be distributed in accordance with the existing provision that stipulates that it could be used for solvency and liquidity, equipment and investments, and development of human resources.
The provision relates to the wholesalers LL Grosist and Farmadent, which are connected in terms of ownership with the Maribor and Ljubljana municipalities, respectively.
Health Ministry State Secretary Alenka Forte said it was a “harsh deputy-sponsored law that protects the interest of two city municipalities”.
Forte noted that the proposed changes did not abolish the wholesalers, but that they had until the end of the year to extract themselves from ownership of pharmacies.
She added that the amendments that direct profit earned by wholesalers back to pharmacy activity did not address the pressure on the professional responsibility of a pharmacist to prescribe drugs supplied by wholesaler with ownership ties.
Dušan Verbič of the SMC said that he could not agree with the assessments that the changes opened the door for foreign wholesalers and multinationals to the Slovenian chain of pharmacies.
Branko Simonovič of the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) said he was against vertical integration, saying that the ban on this concept ensured professional independence of pharmacists.
Opposition Left MP Franc Trček meanwhile sees no problems in vertical integration when it comes to public institutes. He did note, though, that it is up to politicians to listen to experts so that pharmacists do not become merchants.