The Inter-ministerial Commission for Medicine Pricing, the collegiate body within Spain’s Ministry for Health that includes other ministries and the autonomous communities, as of this Friday have decided to limit the maximum price that can be charged at pharmacies for rapid antigen (lateral flow) self-diagnosis tests to just just under €3 each.
It has not been done before, according to the Executive, because shortages in supply had to be solved first.
“The debate we had before or during this Christmas has been, above all, about the supply of these tests; there was an exponential increase in demand but not in supply. This issue has already been resolved; now we will start to control the price of the antigen tests, ” said Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez when announcing the measure on Monday.
According to the FACUA consumer association, a lack of these self-diagnostic tests led to price increases of up to one hundred percent; 150 pharmacies checked throughout Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Valencia and Vitoria, were found to be charging a range of prices of between €4.95 and €10 per test.
The new price limitation will become law once it is published this Friday in Spain’s Official State Gazette (BOE) and will come into effect on Saturday.
The new measure comes after consumer associations and experts raised concerns over what they called “speculation with people’s health” with prices that have increased from €3 or €4 last summer, when they were authorised for sale in pharmacies, rising in some places up to €10 or even €15 per unit. The cost of these tests has at times varied up to 102% (more than double) in some parts of the country depending on the pharmacy, though as the supply chain has been restored these problems are reported to have eased once again.
In other European countries, where tests can be purchased at food outlets, prices are pretty standard at around €2 per unit, while in the United Kingdom they available for free. However, there are countries, such as Italy or Belgium, where prices can be more expensive.
Only in pharmacies
The Spanish Government has however stopped short of liberalising the sale of tests, for various reasons including concerns that the health authorities will not be able to cope with the current boom in cases caused by the omicron variant, wanting to ensure that, as much as possible, positive self-tests can be communicated through the pharmacies. Spain’s Minister for Health, Carolina Darias, has indicated that “once supply has stabilised”, helped by the fact that in recent weeks the sale of more types of tests has been authorised, including some designed for professional use, and now a price has been set “as affordable as possible, always maintaining balance so that the product is available through pharmaceutical channels”.
To set the price, the sales price of the distribution companies, the sales price to the public and the neighbouring countries have been taken into account. Likewise, the prices reached during Christmas in some places was analysed , when many people wanted to have greater security before celebrations with family and friends. The price they were in September and the margin that pharmacies have on the sale of other medicines have also been taken into account. With all this, an agreement has been reached by “consensus”, according to Darias.
In December, more than 21 million units were sold throughout Spain, at an estimated cost of €108 million that was exempt from VAT.
The General Council of Pharmacists and the Federation of Fedimar Distributors have shown their support for the limitation of prices despite the fact that these new “fixed prices will lead to the majority of pharmacies now dispensing the tests below the acquisition price.” They have also applauded that Health Ministry’s “bet on the professional value” provided by pharmacists compared to the proposals to also allow sale in supermarkets.