Pretoria - The Government Employees Medical Scheme (Gems) has been forced to strike a new deal with independent pharmacists who had accused it of discriminating against them in relation to dispensing fees for medication.
According to the pharmacists, Gems had paid them a lower rate for dispensing once-off Covid-19 multivitamins in contrast to the rate for retail pharmacy chain Dis-Chem.
The pharmacists, under the umbrella of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association, believed that their treatment by Gems was tantamount to discrimination against practitioners who were mostly from townships and rural areas.
Both Dis-Chem and independent pharmacists were among service providers contracted to dispense multivitamins called Activovite Complete for Gems beneficiaries to boost their immune systems against Covid-19.
The bone of contention emerged when the independent pharmacists discovered that they were paid a R28 dispensing fee while Dis-Chem got R64.30 for dispensing the same products.
A source said: “They (Gems) negotiated with independent pharmacists, who are mainly black pharmacists. They told them that this product is going to be sold for R310 and they will be paid R25 to dispense. And the independent pharmacists felt they were really robbed because under normal circumstances, if they were selling packet by packet, they would be making better money.
“But because it was Gems, a bigger company, they accepted.”
The Pretoria News was told that both parties reached an amicable agreement on Monday. The organisation said its members learnt about Dis-Chem’s better deal after theirs was already sealed with Gems, which led them to call for the contracts to be re-negotiated.
Sources said Gems changed its stance because it realised it had flouted acceptable payment standards for dispensing, which required that medical schemes must pay the same rate to service providers dispensing medical products.
“They wanted to pay black and independent pharmacists differently to distribute multivitamins and it raised suspicions of looting the Gems medical aid scheme,” a source said.
Independent Community Pharmacy Association chief executive Jackie Maimin said initially the dispensing fee put forward by Gems was unacceptable to independent pharmacists.
“Our chairperson didn’t mince his words. He basically said that it was outrageous that the independents, many of whom are township and rural pharmacists, have been given a poor fee in contrast to a cash-rich corporate company,” Maimin said.
She expressed satisfaction with the new deal. In terms of the deal, any dispensing that has happened already at a low fee will be reversed and be substituted with a new fee of R65.
Gems, however, was not at liberty to disclose confidential information relating to contract negotiations.
Gems’ principal officer, Dr Stanley Moloabi, dismissed claims of discrimination, saying that the entity had a “zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of discrimination and remains committed to a fair and just society”.
He said the once-off supply of multi- vitamins was part of Gems’ wellness offering to members of the scheme.
Moloabi confirmed that pharmacists were among the qualifying health-care providers who were invited to quote on the service fee that would qualify them to distribute and dispense to members on behalf of the scheme.
He said they were one of the pharmacy groups that submitted a quotation for the distribution and were appointed based on their proposed service fee.
“The scheme was later informed of the organisation’s dissatisfaction and, as things stand, this matter has since been resolved amicably by the two parties,” Moloabi said.