The Government sets a maximum price for coronavirus self-diagnosis tests this Thursday, after the explosion of the sixth wave at Christmas multiplied the price and placed it at about 10 or 12 euros per unit in some pharmacies. Once the shortage of antigens has been overcome, prices have fallen considerably in recent days, to about five euros, but some pharmacies continue to sell them somewhat more expensive. “It is a free market, it depends on many factors,” explains a spokesman for the Federation of Pharmaceutical Distributors (Fedifar). This scenario contrasts with that of other European countries, where antigens are sold for a much lower price.
There are examples all over the continent. Buying a box with five antigen tests at a Lidl in Germany costs 10.99 euros, or 2.2 per unit. In a Carrefour in France, the package of five tests costs 9.75 euros, 1.95 per test. And in Portugal, the Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona sells them at 2.1 euros per unit. This Wednesday, has viralized on Twitter the testimony of a Portuguese pharmacist, who recounts how “many” Spaniards cross the border to obtain antigens, especially in supermarkets. However, there are also other countries with prices similar to those of Spain, such as Italy, Belgium or Ireland, where the self-diagnostic tests are in a range of between 5 and 10 euros.
The measure that arrives in Spain this Thursday through the Interministerial Commission of the Prices of Medicines already works in some European countries. In France they have set a high price, close to the current market rate in Spain, 6.01 euros. In Portugal, a maximum of 15% more than the cost price is established. But others, such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands or Italy, do not set a ceiling.
There is no single reasoning that explains why tests are more expensive in Spain or Italy than in Portugal, France or the UK, where they are even free. From Fedifar they explain that these countries have “very established” antigen test distribution channels, more than those of Spain. “These countries have been selling antigens in pharmacies for months before Spain – they began to be marketed in 2021 – and they have more open channels with the main producing country, China. That makes things easier, “add sources from this association, which groups 19 wholesalers with a 97% market share. Jaume Pey, general director of the Association for Self-care in Health (ANEFP), points to another reason: “In other countries the price is lower because they have their own producers, as is the case in Germany. That doesn’t happen in Spain ”.
Whatever the country, prices are always lower in supermarkets than in pharmacies. Furthermore, in countries where antigens can be found for between two and three euros in supermarkets, the pharmacy price does not differ – generally – substantially from that of Spanish pharmacies. But, unlike other European countries, in Spain the sale of antigens outside these health establishments is not allowed, which eliminates the cheap alternative to which many European consumers resort.
“Large stores sell practically at cost prices. Pharmacies cannot get such low margins. I think it is appropriate that the tests are sold only in pharmacies because it is a health good. Some people need help to carry them out and there are communities, such as Catalonia, in which the pharmacy itself reports the positive. That added value is important, ”says Pey. At the moment the Government has not put on the table the possibility that the antigens can be purchased in supermarkets. “I have read that it is criticized that they are not sold [antígenos] In the supermarkets. Spain has chosen to rest the antigen test strategy in pharmacies ”, explained Pedro Sánchez this Tuesday in an interview with Cadena SER.
The National Association of Large Distribution Companies (Anged), which includes companies such as El Corte Inglés or Carrefour, sent a letter to Health at the end of December claiming this possibility: “This measure has already been successfully adopted in other European countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands and Portugal. In this way, on the one hand, easier and faster access to millions of antigen tests can be achieved and, on the other hand, it is also possible to avoid speculative movements and offer a more affordable and competitive price ”.
These speculative movements occurred around Christmas time due to supply shortages. “Now that there are no problems, that the pharmacies have all the necessary antigens, we can trust the law of the market. What lowers prices is the market itself, “adds Pey, and gives surgical masks as an example:” A maximum price of 0.96 cents per unit was approved – it fell to 0.62 months later due to the reduction in VAT, which also applies to antigens— and there is no one who sells them at that price, they are cheaper ”.
Thus, one wonders why the Government did not introduce the maximum price when the antigens were sold for 10 euros or more per unit. The spokeswoman for the Executive, Isabel Rodríguez, explained the Government’s arguments at the press conference after the Council of Ministers on Tuesday: “There was tension in the market — between December 13 and 26, 11.2 million tests were sold in Spain. , which represents more than half of the 20.4 million marketed since July – and the Government, together with pharmaceutical distributors and schools, guaranteed the supply. Now we have a guaranteed supply and we are going to set maximum prices. If the supply was not guaranteed, prices could not be set ”. Experts from the pharmaceutical sector and consumer associations consulted by this newspaper consider that the price control is “late”, but they celebrate the measure. “It will contribute to putting an end to a situation that we have repeatedly denounced and of which pharmacists have been victims, due to excessive price increases and tensions in the market caused by actors outside the pharmaceutical channel,” said the General Council of Pharmacy in a release.
“Let’s hope that the Government acts with knowledge of the facts,” concludes Pey, who refuses to determine what maximum price he would consider “reasonable.” The Popular Party put a figure on the table this Wednesday: “We propose that the tests have a maximum price of two euros,” said the general secretary of the PP, Teodoro García Egea. The maximum price will be known at the meeting of the Interministerial Commission and will enter into force as soon as it is published in the State official newsletter.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.