Consumer authorities want pharmacy reforms that cut the cost of medicines

Reducing the price of medicines in Finland is just one of the recommendations in a new report that takes a close look at the pharmacy industry.

File picture of items in a pharmacy / Credit: iStock

The Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority KKV says it wants to see changes in the way Finnish pharmacies operate, to cut their high profits, and pass on savings to customers in the form of cheaper medicines.

Those are some of the main conclusions of a study KKV carried out into widespread reform of an industry it thinks is ripe for change. Some of the other KKV recommendations include:

  • Lowering the pharmaceutical tax to reduce the price of medicines;
  • Making regulations more simple to allow pharmacies to open where they are needed;
  • Allowing online-only pharmacies in Finland, which helps rural areas;
  • Relaxing strict rules that say only a pharmacist with a license can own a pharmacy;
  • Allow some popular over-the-counter medicines to be sold in other locations, not only in pharmacies;
  • Introduce new rules that pharmacists would have to encourage customers to buy the cheapest option, when several brands that do the same thing are available.
File image of someone who is sick & taking medicine / Credit: iStock

Reaction from pharmacists

The Finnish Pharmacy Association agrees with some of the reform recommendations, but is pushing back on others.

“The Finnish pharmacy system as a whole is functioning well and meets the health policy goals set for it” says Merja Hirvonen CEO of the Finnish Pharmacy Association in a statement.

“It is essential to recognize that medicines are different from other commodities and that the pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated in all Western countries” she adds, although in many European countries it’s possible to buy a range of over-the-counter medicines including painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen from supermarkets and other shops, not just in pharmacies.

Hirvonen says her organisation is proposing a model to reduce prescription medicines by an average of 4.3%, or up to 9% for the most expensive drugs.

“Our model would also reduce income disparities between pharmacies” she says.

The Association says there are around 600 pharmacy entrepreneurs in Finland at present, but if the ownership market was liberalised it would “quickly lead to concentration of ownership, as has happened in Sweden and Norway” which they believe reduces competition.