WINNIPEG (AP) – With just one month left for American patients to enroll in a new federal drug plan, Canada’s online pharmacy industry is trying to assess just how big a hit they’ve taken – and how soon they might recover.

While there have been some layoffs and losses since the U.S. program, called Medicare Part D, was rolled out in January, industry insiders say they hope to weather the storm because of the many gaps in the U.S. plan.

“There’s no question Medicare Part D has dampened sales,” said David MacKay, former executive director of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association who is now a consultant for about 20 online druggists.

“Overall, it’s not something that will kill the industry by any means, but it is something that has educated us and caused us to have to adapt and work smarter.”

For the first time in the United States, everyone with Medicare coverage can have access to prescription drug coverage, regardless of their income or health status, by enrolling in Part D.

It operates like an insurance plan, with patients paying deductibles and premiums in exchange for more affordable medications.

Enrollment is voluntary, but the U.S. government hoped to have as many as 30 million people on board by the May 15 deadline.

The U.S. plan is effectively competing with Canadian online pharmacies since their customer base has primarily been uninsured and underinsured Americans.

MacKay estimated monthly sales have fallen as much as 30 per cent since December. About 1,000 jobs have been lost from a peak of about 4,000 in late 2004.

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