This was disclosed yesterday by Debbie Pearmain, head of legal services for the national Health Department, following the disclosure that many pharmacists were sticking to their old dispensing fees, in contravention of regulations that came into effect on Friday when the Cape High Court dismissed an application challenging them.
Meanwhile, some pharmacists have said that, among other measures they are adopting to try to keep afloat, they might have to ask all their customers to pay cash.
The Pharmaceutical Society and other dispensing groups lost a battle against Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on Friday. Two Cape High Court judges ruled in favour of the government and a third in favour of the pharmacists.
The new regulations set dispensing fees at 26%, with a cap of R26, forscheduled drugs and 16%, up to a maximum of R16, for over-the-counter medicines.
Several pharmacists said they and their colleagues would stick to their former fees of 30% of the drug price and more as charging less would jeopardise their businesses. Also, their cash-flow systems were not prepared for the change.
Technically, it is a criminal offence to charge more than the dispensing fees allowed in the regulations and members of the public may lay a charge, Pearmain said.
More often than not it's the people on the ground who know what's happening in a pharmacy.
It's not up to the Health Department to police these regulations, although we would follow up and work with the prosecuting authorities to see if there has been a violation of the law.
The department would ask police to investigate if it received complaints,Pearmain said.
The Medicines Amendment Act allows for a 10-year prison sentence, a fine or both if a pharmacist contravenes the dispensing fees rules. Thami Bolani, of the National Consumer Forum, a watchdog non-government organisation, said many pharmacists in Johannesburg and Pretoria had begun reducing their dispensing fees and prices had gone down.
Some pharmacists had not decreased their fees, but this was because there was confusion after the court decision as the Health Department had not told pharmacists when the new fees had to kick in.
Consumers should compare prices and go to another pharmacy if their pharmacist did not reduce a price, Bolani said.
Some pharmacists have said they would have to make dramatic changes to the way they do business. Among other measures, they would have to ask customers to pay cash, as the new dispensing fee was too low to allow for the costs of processing medical aid claims or paying for credit card transactions.
In a letter to the Cape Times, Brent Schnell, a Claremont pharmacist, said that pharmacists were under immense pressure to stay viable.
Our pharmacies are not entering a phase of protest. We cannot accept and implement pricing that will end our business, he said.
Many medical schemes deducted a R3 transaction fee from the amount a pharmacist charged for dispensing, he said.
The Pharmaceutical Society has applied for leave to appeal against the Cape High Court ruling. Tomorrow there will be consultation with a judge. (Source: The Cape Times, 1 September 2004