Pharmacy Strengthening Act: Only the first milestone

Capital correspondent Tina Haase

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During the day, at night, at the weekend: when patients need medication and advice - the local pharmacies are there for them. And yet in the past year alone a pharmacy had to close on average almost every day. While there were still 21,548 pharmacies in Germany in 2009, last year, ten years later, there were only 19,075.

Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn (CDU) now wants to strengthen the local pharmacies with a reform package. After years of discussions, the Bundestag passed the so-called on-site pharmacy strengthening law on Thursday, October 29, 2021. It is high time.

A central point of the law: For those with statutory health insurance, the same price will apply in future for a prescription drug - regardless of whether the patient receives the drug from a classic pharmacy or from a European mail order pharmacy.

With this Jens Spahn is reacting to a judgment of the European Court of Justice four years ago. According to this, EU internet pharmacies were allowed to grant their customers discounts on prescription drugs, while German pharmacists were tied to the fixed price. In order to restore fair competitive conditions, the Minister of Health pushed price fixing from pharmaceutical law into the Social Security Code, where national regulation was possible without the influence of the EU. The minister and coalition partner SPD considered a mail order ban, as anchored in the coalition agreement and desired by many pharmacists, to be imponderable under European law and also not up to date.

It is extremely important to eliminate the competitive disadvantage of on-site pharmacies - before the introduction of the e-prescription next year. Because the weights could shift in favor of mail order companies in 2021, if internet friends no longer have to send the recipe by envelope, but forward it digitally. If the mail order company were to attract a discount, it might be received there more often. But internet pharmacies do not provide emergency care and do not touch any prescriptions.

The corona crisis in particular makes it clear how important the pharmacies around the corner are. When the industry was unable to supply disinfectants in the first few weeks of the pandemic, they started making them themselves. The high-risk patients, who should better stay at home during the Corona period, deliver their medication and advice to their home. In shortest time. No mail-order pharmacy can provide this service. And certainly not with familiar employees - as the local pharmacy does.

The new law now stipulates that pharmacies will be able to bill messenger services regularly at the cash registers from January 2021 - 2.50 euros per delivery location and day. As in the first phase of the crisis, the pharmacists would have liked 5 euros per messenger service, which would certainly be more than justified in the country. But at least the fee for courier services is now firmly anchored.

Another key point of the reform package: pharmacies will in future be able to offer more pharmaceutical services and receive money for them. This can be, for example, medication analyzes for patients who have to take many different medicines, intensive pharmaceutical care for cancer therapy or the supply of medicines at home to patients in need of care.

It is long overdue that Jens Spahn is paving the way for services with which pharmacies can earn money for the first time. Pharmacists and patients will benefit from this. However, if you convert the 150 million euros made available per year to around 19,000 local pharmacies, the sum is very tight. Nevertheless: the course has been set for more paid services in the pharmacy. It is always a beginning.

Spahn's law is a milestone for pharmacies in Germany. However, further steps are essential to maintain the classic pharmacy. The pharmacies are not only troubled by the competition from online retailing, but also by a lack of staff, stagnating wages, high rents in the city and closings of medical practices in rural areas. The fewer doctors there are in poorly populated regions, the fewer pharmacies there can be. This trend must be stopped.