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Pharmacies Lobby for New Law on Prescription Deliveries

German chemists and health insurers are lobbying the government to change laws that prevent prescription drugs from being delivered to your door.

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It should be easier to take prescription drugs in the future

Germans are the top spenders on over-the-counter drugs in Europe. Now, German pharmacists and health insurers want to make it even easier for patients to obtain prescription drugs as well. They just can't agree on how the system should work.

The German Pharmacists Association (ABDA) wants to see a system introduced whereby patients can order their medication by mail, telephone or Internet and the prescriptions will be delivered directly to them by the pharmacists themselves or by qualified pharmacy staff.

But Pro-DSA, the initiative led by German health insurers lobbying for mail-order prescriptions, is irritated with the ABDA’s proposal. "Most are still stuck in the Middle Ages. They’re absolutely petrified of people being able to get hold of their medication without going anywhere near the pharmacy – they think it'll mean the death of the local pharmacist," Dorothee Meusch, spokeswoman for Pro-DSA told DW WORLD.

The organization of German health insurers has been lobbying the government for several years to change the pharmaceutical law to allow some, if not all of the 600 million prescriptions processed in Germany each year, to be sent out to patients by mail.

Although already well established in Great Britain, Switzerland and the Netherlands, such a mail-order delivery of drugs is currently forbidden under German law. In short, a patient in need of medication has no choice: go to the local pharmacy to collect a prescription or don’t get it at all.

"In reality it happens"

If the change actually takes place, it won't be a completely new departure from the law in Germany, say the lobbyists.

"Of course, pharmacists won’t admit to delivering drugs – they aren't allowed to – but in reality, it happens," Meusch said. "It’s not as if a pharmacist is going to let a chronically ill 80 year-old in some rural village go without her medication just because she can’t make it to the pharmacist."

And a mail-order system via the Internet already exists for a good number of Germans. Although heavily disputed under the current law, a Dutch pharmaceutical company called DocMorris has come to the rescue of home-bound patients wanting direct delivery of their medication. The Web site enables people to log into the pharmacy, submit their prescription and sit back and wait for it to be delivered to their home. With annual sales grossing five million euro, the online pharmacy is a big success, especially in Germany which makes up three-quarters of the company’s customers.

German pharmaceutical companies could have similar successes if the law were changed, say the pro-mail-order lobbyists.

A change in the future?

Pro-DSA is confident that such a simple mail-delivery system is not far off. Despite criticism from the conservative Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber, who attacked the proposals for a law change as "completely wrong" during the election campaign, the re-elected government of Social Democrats and Greens will push ahead for mail-order prescriptions.

"The German health minister, Ulla Schmidt, has long been supportive of the new changes and we expect that the new laws will be in place in this legislative period," Meusch told DW-WORLD.

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