French News Archive

Healthcare in France

Price of Medicines at Chemists

Tuesday 18 January 2011

A survey has found a substantial variation in the price of medicines in chemists, but would stronger controls simply risk the demise of the rural chemist?

In a price survey of 13 over the counter non-prescription medicines in 34 departments, the Mouvement des Familles Rurales found that prices for the same medication varied by over 100%.

Whilst at certain chemists a box of Nurofen pain killers could be purchased for €1.78, at the top end the same product was being sold for €4.60.

Prices for a box of Strepsils throat pastilles ranged between €3.50 and €6.95, a price difference of €3.25.

The biggest price difference was for Gallia baby milk, which varied from €15.80 at the bottom end to €27.70 in the most expensive chemists.

The following table shows the mimimum and maximum prices for the medicines in the survey.

Medicine Prices
ProductQuantityMin PriceMax Price
NUROFEN 200 mg20€1.78€4.6
HEXTRIL200 ml€3.80€6.8
DRILL TOUX SÊCHE 125 ml€2.70€5.80
ARNIGEL45 g€2.99€5.95
GALLIA900 g€15.80€27.70
PHYSIOLOGICA 5ml40€1.90€6.20

Lack of Price Transparency

The researchers found that the prices of those medicines on open display in front of the counter were generally cheaper than those behind the counter, where prices were not on display.

Chemists are required by law to show the prices of their over the counter medicines, yet an an investiation carried out last year by French trading standards officers found only 36% of chemists properly did so.

The same investigation also found that 78% of chemists similarly failed in their obligation to provide a catalogue of non-reimbursable medicines with their prices displayed.

The availability of over the counter medicines in France is a fairly recent change in law. Until July 2008, most of these medicines were only available on prescription.

Not only has the government now made them freely available over the counter, but they have also removed many hundreds of branded prescription medicines from the list of those that are reimbursable.

So even if you are prescribed some (but not all) of these medicines by your doctor, you will not receive any reimbursement through the social security system. In other cases, the level of reimbursement may be as low as 15%.

Future of Rural Chemists?

The reduction in the sale of branded medicines in favour of cheaper generic medicines has impacted on the profit margins of chemists, many of whom have clearly decided to compensate the loss by a higher margin on over the counter medicines.

The practice of overcharging is less common in urban areas where there is greater competition, but in rural areas chemists have a captive market, as consumers are unlikely to be able or willing to travel around to find the same product for a cheaper price.

However, although a demand for greater transparencey in prices seems an easy target, the issue is a tricky one for countryside dwellers, as it risks exacerbating the existing decline in the number of chemists in rural areas.

Not only are chemists facing pressure on price margins, but supermarkets have been lobbying strongly to end the chemists monopoly on the sale of over the counter medicines.

They have so far fallen short of achieving this objective, but with a growing number of chemists being persuaded by supermarkets to set up within their stores, it may not last.

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