SANTIAGO – A recent investigation shows that the three major pharmacies in Chile are holding prices of at least 120 medicines artificially high. According to one of the journalists involved, the study shows that pharmacies are still colluding, over 10 years after a major collusion scandal struck the Chilean medicine market. The journalists in charge have handed the details to the National Prosecutor.
Ahumada, Salcobrand, and Cruz Verde, the three biggest pharmacies in Chile who were part of a major collusion scandal in 2008, are still working together to keep medicine prices artificially high. That is the conclusion of an investigation performed by a team of independent journalists. In some cases, the three offered medicines for USD$110 above the prices of local pharmacies.
The journalists used a price-compare app that offers up-to-date prices of popular medicine in all pharmacies across Chile. They made a list of 120 of the most popular medicines in Chile and found that in nearly all cases Ahumada, Salcobrand, and Cruz Verde offered prices that were far above the ones local pharmacies or pharmacies working with bioequivalents offered. Read their entire investigation here.
Fesema, a medicine for bronchospasm, was sold by the big three for $USD19, while the local pharmacy in the commune of Recoleta sold it for USD$4. Spiron, a medicine for schizophrenia, was sold for USD$34, while a local pharmacy in Santiago sold it for USD$5. And Ursofalk, a gallstone medicine, was sold for USD$155, while local pharmacies sold it for USD$45.
Following the 2008 Collusion Scandal
It is not the first time Ahumada, Salcobrand, and Cruz Verde, who hold a large percentage of the Chilean medicine market, have made headlines in a price-fixing scandal. In 2008, the National Prosecutor determined that the three had colluded by increasing the prices of at least 222 medications, mostly used to treat chronic diseases. The pharmacies received fines and in response municipalities across Chile started opening their local regulated pharmacies, to make people less dependent on the three.
In an interview with El Desconcierto, Felipe Parada, a member of the team that investigated the medicine prices, said the team looked closely at the prices that were the subject of collusion in the 2008 scandal, comparing them with the 2019-2020 prices. “The result is incredible. Not only are there huge differences in prices with the local and independent pharmacies, but we also see that the prices of these medicines are very similar in the three big chains.”
Usamos app para comparar precios 2020 de 40 remedios de uso sensible y el resultado es impactante: Valores en las 3 cadenas son casi iguales y se ve abusiva dif con populares e indep. #SiguenColudidas #FarmaciasColudidas2 pic.twitter.com/uIm4iesHZH
— Felipe Parada (@FelipeParadaM) January 6, 2020
On Monday, Jan. 20, Parada, accompanied by opposition politicians Miguel Crispi, Claudia Mix, Maya Fernández, delivered the details of the investigation to the National Economic Prosecutor’s Office, the office in charge of the 2008 investigation.
In their complaint, Parada and his team write that “the problem of high drug prices is an evil that affects thousands of Chileans. We are convinced that the public policies that the State has implemented so that citizens can access better remedies have been insufficient and have allowed companies to profit from the health of all Chileans. We want to make this investigation available to the National Economic Prosecutor so that it can determine if we are once again faced with an unfair practice that is only hurting all Chileans in order to generate greater profits for pharmacies.”Carta
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.