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It will take a year to lower generic drug prices, says BC health minister

British Columbia introduced legislation this week aimed at lowering the price of generic drugs, but Health Minister Michael de Jong said it will realistically be a year before those savings are realized.

NDP Leader Adrian Dix said the province's delay has already been costly.

"I want us to have at least the certainty of having the most competitive generic drug prices in Canada," said de Jong.

In 2010 Ontario legislated it would pay 25 percent of the brand name price for generic drugs. This week Canada's most populated province said for the ten most prescribed generics it will drop the price to 20 percent.

Rather than legislate reduced prices when Ontario did, B.C. entered an agreement with organizations representing pharmacies that has brought the generic price to 35 percent of the brand name price. De Jong earlier this year said the agreement hasn't delivered the anticipated savings.

"A number of years ago . . . I recommended that they take this action," said the NDP's Dix when asked about the Pharmaceutical Services Act introduced yesterday. "They said I was wrong and they were right, and now they're saying I was right and they were wrong. I'm very appreciative that they've come to that."

By not doing it sooner, however, the province lost a lot of revenue, he said. Private plans and individuals who pay for their own drugs have also spent more than they would have had to, he said. "The delay has been very costly for the province," he said. "Now we're a couple years behind, but hopefully we can realize those savings now."

The CEO of Pacific Blue Cross, Ken Martin, welcomed the legislation. "It was what we expected," he said.

The Tyee reported April 2 that Martin said he had also hoped the province would regulate the dispensing fees charged by pharmacies as well as the mark-up they include in their drug prices. Those measures do not appear to be in the B.C. legislation.

"We're going to continue to try to encourage them," Martin said. "It's something we think would be good for the citizens of B.C.."

De Jong said he doesn't plan to address mark-ups or dispensing fees for payers other than the government's PharmaCare program, but that "Driving down the cost of generic drugs will accrue to the benefit of everyone."

By the time the legislation is passed and the associated regulations are put in place, it will "realistically" be April, 2013, before the price of generics comes down, he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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