THE Irish Pharmacy Union has insisted that its members are passing on the discounts they receive on generic drugs for medical card holders.
It responded after it emerged that the Health Service Executive (HSE) was being billed for the full price of some generic drugs under its free drugs scheme.
In some cases, it is paying up to 10 times the amount that pharmacists pay to the manufacturers for the drugs.
This is because pharmacists are billing the HSE for the "official" price for the medication, rather than the discounted price when applying for refunds.
For example, companies have offered cold sore and shingles drug Aciclovir and anti-depressant Fluoxetine to pharmacists for a tenth of what the HSE pays.
However, the Pharmacy Union said its members were not getting the full benefit of the discounts because the HSE did not pay them 100pc of the cost of the drugs.
It said that the HSE only refunded 91.8pc of the cost of generic medication, as well as branded drugs, which left its members footing 8.2pc of the cost.
Although the savings on the discounted generic drugs appear huge, the union pointed out that these medications only made up 18pc of the market.
It said pharmacists often suffered losses because they only got part of their costs back on branded drugs. In some cases, it said, they got no discount, particularly on expensive drugs that were kept in the fridge.
The union said negotiating purchase price incentives from suppliers was a feature of all businesses.
"The HSE benefits from these discounts and, since 2009, has been recouping 8.2pc of the cost of all medicines directly from pharmacist payments," it said.
It said this deduction applied to all medicines, not just generic medicines, including 'fridge items', on which pharmacists were losing money.
"Generic medicine accounts for a relatively small part of overall medicine costs," said a spokesman.
He said the amount of generics dispensed in Ireland was 18pc, while in the UK, generic medicines made up 80pc of dispensed drugs.
The spokesman claimed every time the Government and manufacturers lowered the price of medicines, these reductions had been passed on by pharmacists to their patients.
"Further falls in medicine prices will occur and will also benefit patients," he said.