New medicine pricing regulations might prove unpopular with chemists

Getrude Makhafola

Getrude Makhafola

The government's much-anticipated new medicine pricing regulations have received mixed responses. Some industry players say it will bring stability to the market, but others are concerned that the prices are too low.

Announcing the new regulations yesterday, Thami Mseleku, the director-general of the health department, said patients would no longer pay administration fees for a dispensing service, and that the only additional service that patients may be charged for was the delivery and the compounding of medicines.

"The fee is structured in tiers to ensure that low cost medicines do not become too expensive. The proposed fee will offer consumers a saving on their medicines when compared with the pre-regulation period," said Mseleku.

The medical pricing saga between industry players and the government was brought before the constitutional court last year, after pharmacies complained that the prices would put them out of business. The government had originally set the dispensing fee at 26 percent of the single exit price (SEP), the price at which a pharmacy buys its medicines from suppliers, capped at R26, but the court ruled that the government had to amend this.

According to the pricing committee, where the SEP is less than R75 the dispensing fee will be R4 plus 33 percent of the SEP. If the SEP is R75 or more but less than R250, the dispensing fee will be R25 plus 6 percent of the SEP.

Medicines with an SEP of R250 or more but less than R1 000 will have a R33 dispensing fee plus 3 percent of the SEP. Where the SEP is R1 000 or more the dispensing fee is R50 plus 1,5 percent of the SEP.

New Clicks chief executive David Kneal said: "It is now critical that we have much needed stability in the pharmacy sector, which has been operating in an environment of uncertainty for far too long.

"This has negatively affected the pharmacy profession, which is crucial to the delivery of healthcare in the country."

Lorraine Osman, head of public affairs at the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa, said that her organisation needed to test the figures first.

Pharmacies would have to implement the new pricing structure immediately but would have until the end of January to iron out problems.