Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette tables a document Thursday, October 9, 2014 at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Quebec plans to move soon to enforce a new law letting the province seek lower drug prices through a bidding process, unless pharmaceutical companies make a convincing case for other options to reduce the cost of medicine.
The government hasn’t yet taken action on the law, adopted in June, because the pharmaceutical industry is “reacting a lot” to it and trying to come up with its own proposals, Health Minister Gaetan Barrette said in an interview Tuesday.
“We have this law. If the industry doesn’t propose us something that’s viable, we’re going to apply it,” Barrette said on the sidelines of the government’s budget unveiling in Quebec City. “Be it with a proposal from the industry, or with the enforcement of our own law on tendering, a significant move will be made by the end of the parliamentary session,” in mid-June.
Canada’s second-most populous province has been trying to get a grip on health-care costs, which account for about 40 per cent of expenses, by shaking up the system with reforms affecting everyone from doctors to pharmacists. Quebec has unnerved the industry by holding back specifics of the tenders, which could be used with manufacturers and distributors and are seen as focusing mainly on generic drugs.
One of the province’s most recognizable companies, pharmacy chain and generic-drug maker Jean Coutu Group Inc., has publicly criticized Quebec for ignoring proposals from the private sector when conceiving bills to cut health-care costs. The company’s profit has been shrinking because of one reform that has led generic-drug makers to offer bigger rebates on their medicine.
In a rare interview with a local TV channel in January, the Coutus – Jean, the founder and chairman, and his son Francois, the chief executive officer – said the uncertainty in the industry could jeopardize their company’s future in the province and had the family questioning whether to sell the business.
Barrette said he since has met with the Coutus, “who are among the people who are ready to make proposals,” and had a “cordial discussion.” He declined to say whether he plans to move ahead with a bidding process for wholesalers, which could lead to a single company having a monopoly over the distribution of drugs to pharmacists.
Jean Coutu spokeswoman Helene Bisson confirmed that the company met with Barrette and “made general proposals in order to reduce uncertainties in the drug industry, at the level of pharmacists as well as distributors and generic-drug makers.”
The Coutu team also urged Barrette to work with the industry to agree on a solution and underlined the importance of preventing disruptions in the supply chain, she said in an email.
“We’re waiting,” Barrette said. “We’re not here for the pleasure of disturbing this network, but everyone agrees it costs too much, so the government spends too much, and we must make corrections – which we will do this session.”