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BC has until April 1 to decide on forcing generic drug savings

The British Columbia government is considering its next steps to find savings on generic drugs after failing to reach a resolution with the BC Pharmacy Association and the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores.

In 2010 the province reached an agreement with the two organizations that was to cut the price of generic drugs in B.C., but last September Health Minister Mike de Jong said the province wasn't saving enough money and would reopen the deal.

"The agreement requires that we had 60 days to discuss our agreement with the associations before taking any further actions -- but that we have until April 1st, 2012, to decide on next steps," said health ministry spokesperson Ryan Jabs in an email.

"While the 60-day period of discussion has expired, there isn't an update on the status of the agreement at this time," he said.

The agreement dropped the price the province would pay for generics from 50 percent of the price of the brand name equivalent to 35 percent. It followed a similar deal in Ontario, matched in Quebec, that dropped the price of generics even further in those provinces, to 25 percent of the price of brand name drugs.

B.C. was on track to save $122 million over three years under the deal, but that was $50 million short of the savings the parties had agreed to, Health Minister Mike de Jong told The Tyee in September, 2011. "That's not good enough," he said at the time. "Unless those savings can be made up the government will look at a legislated option."

Jabs said the goal is cost certainty and that "we have made it clear that we will accept nothing less than the full amount of savings as outlined in our agreement for British Columbians." He could not, however, say how the province will proceed.

B.C. Pharmacy Association CEO Geraldine Vance said in an emailed statement that discussions with the health ministry are continuing. "BCPhA remains committed to working collaboratively with the provincial government in order to secure the best outcome for British Columbia," she said.

A call to the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores was not returned by publication time.

Ontario announced last June that it met projected savings of $500 million per year from reforming its drug program and would reinvest the money in the health care system, said B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix.

"It continues to show how much more poorly we're doing than Ontario and Quebec," said Dix. "B.C. has failed in its approach . . . People are paying more for the same thing as in other provinces."

The federal and provincial governments have done several things in recent years that have raised the price of drugs, he said. "They're not prepared to defend the public system or patients against the pharmaceutical industry."

British Columbians are much more likely than other Canadians to say they failed to fill or follow a prescription because of cost, a study by University of B.C. researchers released earlier this week found.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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