The association representing pharmacists in Ontario says although the provincial government is boasting that some generic drugs cost more here than they do in the U.S., those numbers are misleading.

The government says Ontario pays 31 to 82 per cent more for some drugs -- prices that are higher than New Zealand, the U.K., France and Germany.

For example, the government says Enalapril, a medication used to treat blood pressure, costs 42 cents for a five milligram dose in Ontario. In the United States, that same pill costs about 10 cents. In New Zealand, the drug costs about two cents per dose.

However, the pharmacist association says the government is exaggerating the price differences.

Fees paid to pharmacists

The government plans to stop $750 million per year in fees paid to pharmacists from generic drug companies to sell their medication.

While the government says the fees inflate the price of drugs for patients, pharmacists argue it helps them provide better service due to lack of provincial funding.

Now, some pharmacies fear they may be forced to close.

"If you fill the plane with half the fuel, you can't fly it to the destination," said Stanley Tam, of the Ottawa Medical Pharmacy, which has already cut its hours, and fears it might soon shut down.

Provincial funding?

However, the government seemed to open the door Tuesday to increase funding for Ontario pharmacists who provide additional services, such as flu shots.

"If pharmacists do embrace the model, if they do provide services like vaccinations, like chronic disease management... then that's an area that I think we'd look very closely at," said Health Minister Deb Matthews.

Still, pharmacies say if the province moves forward with cutting fees paid by drug companies, they will be forced to raise fees for consumers -- something that could hurt patient care.

Drug stores take action

Starting next Monday, the Rexall family of pharmacies will stop delivering prescriptions to customers for free. It also plans to enforce a hiring freeze at the corporate level and do away with student and internship programs.

In London, Ont., the riding belonging to the health minister, Shoppers Drug Mart stores cut pharmacy hours on Tuesday, and started charging $5 to $15 for deliveries.

Shoppers Drug Mart has more than 500 stores across Ontario, while Rexall operates 250 stores, which fall under various names such as Rexall, Pharma Plus, Rexall Pharma Plus, The Medicine Shoppe, Guardian and I.D.A

Consumer speaks out

At the Glebe Apothecary on Bank Street, the pharmacy is considering cutting hours and staff.

"They're cutting us off above the knees with this and we simply won't be able to deliver the level of health care Ontarians are used to," said pharmacist Claudia McKeen.

Customers like Angelo Demarsico, who depend on getting their prescription drugs delivered, will now have to find time to pick-up their medication, or pay for delivery.

"It's good that it's free. Drugs are expensive enough as it is," said Demarsico, who has an eye condition and uses a cane to walk.

He said getting his prescription delivered is important. He added that he welcomed government officials to "try putting on a blind fold and a white cane and see how they feel trying to cross Bank Street."

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Catherine Lathem and files from The Canadian Press