Health minister confronts angry pharmacists

Berlin Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) had to reckon with the fact that the appearance at the pharmacists' day in Munich would not be any easier. His predecessor Jens Spahn (CDU) had provided the pharmacists with funds worth billions in the corona pandemic, which the Federal Court of Auditors castigated as “gifts of money”. Lauterbach, on the other hand, wants to cut the industry's income in order to stabilize the statutory health insurance companies in view of their deficit in the billions.

She was "disturbed and upset" that the plans "were just thrown at her feet," said the President of the Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists (Abda), Gabriele Regina Overwiening, addressing Lauterbach on Wednesday. He wasn't there in person, but connected via video and later answered the pharmacists' questions.

Specifically, the industry is enraged by the planned higher pharmacy discount, which is to rise from 1.77 to two euros per prescription drug. According to Overwiening, this would cost the pharmacies 120 million euros and would be "the next lethal injection" at a time when energy costs are rising.

Compared to the deficit of the cash registers of a total of 17 billion euros, this is "minimal help for the statutory health insurance, but painful consequences for many pharmacy locations." One could not cope with any further burdens.

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The number of pharmacy locations has fallen by 3,500 since 2005, and in a European comparison Germany is one of the countries with the lowest density of pharmacies. In addition, the pharmacies had done a lot in the corona pandemic, said Overwiening. However, she sees the higher deduction as a “punishment” for the service provided. The health kiosks planned by Lauterbach are also a mistake. This "burns money" that is needed elsewhere in the system.

The mood among pharmacists is worse than ever

According to a representative survey that Overwiening presented the day before, the mood among pharmacists is worse than ever. 83 percent therefore have a negative view of economic development in the coming years. In 2021 it was almost 65 percent. "Unfortunately, the staff and junior staff problems, which increasingly threaten to impair the supply, are getting bigger and bigger."

After her speech, Lauterbach was shown larger than life on a screen in the hall, sitting in a dark jacket and black shirt in front of a black wall unit. He is grateful that he was able to exchange ideas personally with the Abda leadership in the past week, he said.

The meeting came about after much urging by the pharmacists, who looked to Berlin with increasing bewilderment. The pharmacists had not yet been able to speak to the minister personally nine months after taking office.

According to Lauterbach, he found the conversation very profitable, friendly and honest. The Minister of Health also tried to get the pharmacists on his side in other ways. They made a valuable contribution in the corona pandemic.

He asked for understanding for the planned cuts. He had to spread this on all shoulders. "I would have gladly spared you that burden," he said. In addition to the pharmacy discount, a higher additional contribution for the insured, cuts in the pharmaceutical industry and a reduction in cash reserves are planned.

The lemon is not only squeezed in the pharmacies, it is bone dry. Ursula Funke, President of the Hessen State Chamber of Pharmacies

After his speech he took questions from the delegates. "The lemon is not only squeezed out in the pharmacies, it is bone-dry," said Ursula Funke, President of the Hessen State Chamber of Pharmacists, to loud applause.

When asked to correct the law, Lauterbach replied that pharmacies could hope for increased income from the vaccines and new, more expensive drugs during the pandemic. However, if the economic situation were to worsen, "we will think about everything," he said. However, the Minister of Economy is responsible.

He regretted that Lauterbach could not come in person. "I wasn't available," he said, since he had to attend the cabinet meeting. The cabinet launched its law on care assessment in clinics (PPR 2.0). It should lead to a better staffing of nursing staff. However, associations and funds criticize the planned right to have a say for Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP).

"The regulations for financing care in hospitals must not be based on the general financial situation of the federal government, but must be based on the needs of the patients and improve the situation of the employees in the clinics," said the chairwoman of the AOK federal association, Carola Reimann, on Wednesday. "It's not up to the finance minister."

The law is intended to introduce a method for staffing on the wards and will be mandatory from 2025. Hospitals should be obliged to work with a sufficient number of nursing staff.

More: Lauterbach in the promised Corona land: What Germany can learn from Israel in the pandemic

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