Britain recently allowed drugs not needing prescriptions to be sold over the counter in supermarkets, as well as pharmacies. Medicine prices immediately plummeted to the delight and benefit of the public.
In Israel, the market for such drugs is worth NIS 300 million a year, about 12 percent of the total drugs market. In the U.S. these non-prescription medicines are 30 percent of the market - and with reason. In America you can buy these drugs at the corner grocery or the supermarket. You can wander the aisles and choose your own medicine for pain, or stomach acidity, or for coughs and sneezes, and other minor ailments. In New York you can even buy these from all-night stores.
In the drugstores themselves, there is no waiting in line - go straight to the shelves and buy whatever takes your fancy. As a result, there is fierce competition between different pharmaceutical firms and the points of sale. As soon as consumers can help themselves to whatever is on the shelves, and can choose between various products and compare prices, so will they compare prices and buy accordingly. This is competition, and it brings lower prices.
But it is this very feature that the medical establishment has come out against in force. The Health Ministry, the local pharmaceutical manufacturers, the importers and pharmacists have all ganged up in opposition to reforms the treasury suggested with the support of Finance Minister Silvan Shalom - namely, allowing non-prescription drugs over the counter in grocery stores and supermarkets.
The medical establishment wants to protect its overblown profits. In addition, as long as we need pharmacists for over-the-counter drugs, this helps pay for the pharmacists' time and premises. Naturally, there are some pharmacists (not many) that recommend more expensive drugs because the profit is higher, or other drugs because of kick-backs - all against public interest.
But this isn't the only campaign by the establishment against the public. This week the High Court of Justice rejected an appeal by the drug companies, importers and pharmacists against a price order that will slash most non-prescription drug prices on September 1.
Last June, there was a similar attempt to stop the importation of prescription drugs by suppliers other than direct manufacturers - known as parallel imports. They wanted to continue forcing HMOs to buy all drugs exclusively through them. Fortunately for us, the High Court dismissed the claims.
What is really funny is how the medical establishment always comes up with the same excuse, with the same straight face: "We are doing this because we are concerned only to safeguard public health." Listening to them it would seem any reform, competition or improvement poses "a serious danger to public health."
So carry on petitioning the High Court, keep badgering the health ministry, keep trying to convince the politicians, but whatever you do - please don't try to protect our health. That we can do for ourselves, thank you very much.
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