03/22/2012 10:56 EDT | Updated 05/22/2012 05:12 EDT

New Brunswick to slash price of generic drugs in half by end of the year

FREDERICTON - Generic drug prices in New Brunswick will be cut by as much as half by the end of this year in an effort to bring pharmaceutical costs in line with the rest of the country, the provincial government announced Thursday.

Health Minister Madeleine Dube promised to slash generic drug prices, which cost between 50 to 70 per cent of their brand name counterparts, saying residents of other provinces pay half that.

"This is simply not fair to New Brunswickers and we knew we needed to find a solution to this problem," Dube told a news conference Thursday.

Dube said generic drug prices will drop to 40 per cent of their brand name costs in June and 35 per cent in December.

"This policy will ensure that all New Brunswickers benefit from more affordable drugs, pay a similar price for generic drugs as their counterparts in other provinces, and will help to ensure the sustainability of drug programs for future beneficiaries as well," she said.

Dube said the change will save the province about $16 million in the first 10 months that it is implemented. She said that's because it will be cheaper to pay for prescriptions for the 105,000 people covered by the province's prescription drug program.

But she said $6.2 million of those savings will go to other measures, including drug monitoring programs and increasing pharmacy dispensing fees.

Paul Blanchard, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association, said while he's pleased to see a drop in generic drug prices, the new policy will mean a large cut in revenue for the province's 218 pharmacies.

"I'm hesitant to throw a number out, but I certainly think that it can be in excess of $100,000 per pharmacy that the impact of this decision will have," Blanchard said.

But he said he's pleased the government has agreed to establish a working group with the association to monitor the effects of the changes over the coming months.

The provincial government promised last year to introduce a plan to drop generic drug prices and has been consulting with pharmacists and the public since then.

Ontario and Quebec residents pay 25 per cent of the brand name price for their generic drugs, while British Columbia will implement that price scheme by April 2013.

Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia will join New Brunswick at 35 per cent this year. Newfoundland and Labrador will drop its generic drug prices to that level by April 2013.

New Brunswick pharmacies fill 11 million prescriptions each year, the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association said.