By Deana Driver

EDMONTON — The Alberta Pharmaceutical Association (APhA) has extended its contract with the province for a sixth year while it works on a game plan for practice changes.

Alternative reimbursement, provider audits and compounding are all up for discussion.

Alberta is also creating an “innovation fund” to support test projects that will lead to better pharmaceutical care. Unlike similar funds in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which are pharmacist-financed, Alberta’s will be paid for by government.

APhA will provide “support in kind” to the fund’s projects through staffing and expertise, says Harold Lopatka, APhA’s director of pharmacy economics. The province will organize and administer the fund, while APhA will be involved in creating guidelines and overseeing the projects and operations.

“It’s being unrolled as part of three projects–trial prescriptions, setting up a provincial drug utilization review program and academic detailing. They’re all being discussed now at the same time,” says Lopatka.

Payers’ audits of pharmacists will likely be a contentious issue on the table. “We’ve had pharmacists complaining about how the audits occur and how [payers] deal with the pharmacists if they find something wrong,” says Lopatka. “They’re really not given a very good explanation of what the payer is looking for, and when the payer finds something wrong, it looks like they’re a bit heavy-handed.”

APhA has made some suggestions on how the process might be improved and will be working toward that end in this next year, Lopatka adds.

APhA also hopes to update contract provisions for compounding so that they include injectables and other more current compounding practices. “The contract was done in the late ’80s so how it talks about compounding is pretty archaic,” says Lopatka.

Details on these issues are still to come but Lopatka confirms that the re-signing of the contract, which dates back to 1993, protects pharmacists against any increases in utilization of the government’s drug plan. In other words, Alberta Blue Cross has agreed to pay pharmacists the same fee no matter how much the government ends up spending on its drug plan over the next year.

Garth Norris, director of communications for Alberta Health, confirmed that the contract had been extended, but declined to comment on the ongoing discussions.