Going to the pharmacy also hurts: due to deregulation, drug prices are going through the roof | Testimonies of people leaving the premises without being able to buy

According to a report prepared by the Center of Argentine Pharmaceutical Specialists (Ceprofar) and the most recent estimates calculated based on this space, Over the past two months, medicines have risen in price by 140 percent. As a result, people head to pharmacies: when faced with the sums, they flee in terror, or buy half of the drugs they need and visit others in search of better options. Employees, for their part, update the amounts almost weekly, which causes problems to multiply: the buyer carries an item of value on the shelf, and, going to the checkout, buys a higher value. A strong seasoning is added to this cocktail: Prepaid companies will increase their premiums for January, February and March, with the overall increase potentially reaching 80-85 percent. Consequently, many people do the math and predict how long they will be able to pay for private healthcare. Providers are also dusting off their calculators and estimating up to 500 thousand affiliates.

“It should be clarified that drug prices did not remain the same; in fact, until November 1, they kept pace with inflation. From January 1 to October 31, 2023, its price increased by 123 percent, and inflation at that time was 120. In the following months, that is, November and December, everything changed: with the last increase, they corresponded to 300 percent accumulated during the year, and the annual inflation was estimated at 170, which ultimately led to a doubling of inflation.“, speaks Ruben Sayem, director of the company “Tseprofar”. And he goes on to describe a phenomenon that is observed in many pharmacies across the country: “Together with our colleagues, we try to recommend alternative brands, we talk to people, we try to get them not to refuse treatment, but sometimes it becomes very difficult. Many people come in, check the prices, double the recipe, save it and leave. “We don’t know if they’re going to buy somewhere else or if they never will.” Often the most aggressive capitalism discovers that popular proverbs are just that, proverbs. Saying that “Health is priceless” may be a romantic aspiration at this point, but it doesn’t reflect what actually happens every day in the country’s pharmacies.

Reducing health care costs is equivalent to adding a scissor’s edge to a fundamental human right. Perhaps more than in any other sector, it is clear that the adjustment through economic deregulation proposed by the present government on the basis of the DNE has the community as its main target and not, as expected, the political caste. Therefore, in mid-January, the mood on the streets not only does not calm down, but also overheats. Not knowing how much medications will cost, not knowing whether needed treatment for a chronic disease can be continued, not knowing the future behavior of prepaid companies creates a scenario of uncertainty on the verge of exploding. And it’s just getting started.

The law of healing who can

Price controls through agreements between the previous government and laboratories ended on October 31; Therefore, until this point, the amounts mainly accompanied inflation. However, when the agreements were finalized, growth began to be observed from the beginning of November. “We estimate that if we take into account just the last two months, they are up 140 percent. It may not be clear as a percentage, but people are very clear about it every time they come to the pharmacy and leave.– says Sadem.

He then goes on to explain the specific problem that lack of access to medications can cause for patients with chronic diseases. “When it comes to over-the-counter products, we see people holding back and choosing not to buy them. As for prescribed medications, antihypertensive treatment already costs 70 or 100 thousand pesos per month. Leaving it has health consequences that lead to a deterioration in quality of life.” At the same time, we must take into account that even from a commercial point of view, the business is not closing. It is much more costly for the system to care for a patient in the intensive care unit than to offer treatment before they reach crisis point.

IN In a recent statement, the Social Work Service of the Province of Buenos Aires (IOMA) shares the following:: “The liberalization of prices and the non-intervention of the national government in their regulation, coupled with a brutal devaluation of 118 percent, has led to the fact that social work branches that had 100 percent coverage for outpatient or chronic diseases are now having to pay for medications that were unthinkable in November . In the case of drugs, as is known, The past few months have seen extraordinary increases in costs, significantly higher than the average price increases in the economy.; As an example, we can say that in the first 15 days of December 2023, the volume of drugs sold increased by 37%. Thus, the accumulated growth for the year is 311%, while the inflation for the same period, accumulated up to November according to INDEC (National Institute of Statistics and Census), is 148%.”

According to the IOMA statement, Fabian Pouratrich, former Deputy Minister for Health Systems Integration healthcare portfolio, led by Carla Vizzotti, puts the labs under a magnifying glass. “Rising drug prices eventually outpaced inflation significantly. But he did this without any justification; just look at the annual balance sheet of any laboratory. No one had any losses,” he comments to Pagina 12. And he continues his explanation: “They are so expensive that they become inaccessible, and, of course, everything falls on the state system. “Someone who goes to the pharmacy and cannot get the medicine looks to the public hospital to find out how to get it.”

From Puratrich’s point of view, less than a month before the inauguration, the president is seeking to lead the state in this area as well. Two examples on this matter: on the one hand, extension of the 2023 budget to 2024, which due to inflation will not be able to cover all needs; on the other hand, the elimination of the National Agency of Public Laboratories, responsible for promoting public production of drugs in various provinces.

To the pharmacy… but as researchers

Mario lives in the province of Buenos Aires and regularly goes to the pharmacy in Avellaneda. For years he had been dealing with a chronic health problem that he had to treat with three medications. Considering increases without a roof, not knowing how you will pay them. This is a serious problem, the reason for exclusive conversations in his family for several days. “I call one pharmacy and go to another. I approach a man I have known for a long time, but he does not give me answers. The employees are not to blame either. In fact, it is very difficult to understand what is better when the price situation changes every day. There will come a time when you won’t be able to pay them anymore, and unfortunately that won’t be for long.“he says.

Mario They can still be purchased, but there are other patients who come in with their prescriptions, check the prices and go home empty-handed. The concerns Mario warns about come in numbers. “Among those that have seen the largest increases, a notable example is amoxicillin, the most used antibiotic. At the beginning of November, it was priced at P3,300 and is now available at P7,800. Among brands of ibuprofen and syrups for children, which cost around P3,000, it is now over P5,500. In cholesterol control drugs, which had a monthly treatment of around 15 thousand pesos, now 30 thousand“, lists Sajem. There are a few other things worth mentioning in this table: contraceptives have doubled in price; Digestif in drops already costs about 7 thousand pesos; antispasmodic for gastrointestinal pain or some decongestant nasal drops – 4 thousand; ointments usually used for infants reach 10 thousand; and eye drops, 5 thousand.

Rule, who often goes to the pharmacy in Palermo, tells his story. “We will still have to buy medicines, especially since they are intended for the treatment of chronic diseases. So I stop buying something for my cold and try to solve it with tea and honey. Everything cost double or triple, much more; everything increases so much that the parameters are lost” Communication with pharmacy staff is key, and Norma expresses this with an example: “There is a product that I had a prescription for and I didn’t buy it because I still had the rest, but after talking to the pharmacist he convinced me to buy it. He told me that I had better take it, even if I don’t need it at the moment, because the next day it will have a different price.

In addition to the prices of medicines, the prices of two essential items, the consumption of which usually increases sharply at this time of year, have also increased. The link is for mosquito repellents and sunscreens. As for the former, they are vital, for example, to prevent bites from Aedes aegypti (which can transmit dengue) or Aedes albofasciatus (responsible for transmitting equine encephalitis). In this case, to be able to use it, you will have to spend from 3 to 8 thousand pesos (depending on the composition of the aerosol or cream). As for protectors, their main function is to protect the skin from sun rays and prevent diseases such as cancer. Prices vary (depending on the brands, the size of the product and the protection they provide) and most often range from 6 to 16 thousand pesos.

These ongoing changes are the result of very specific policies promoted by the latest DNU. A previous note published in this newspaper explained that based on some changes made to the rules – defining the financing of low-cost public production, allowing marketing at any point of sale – “not only” lower drug prices, but rather they, seems to be driven by the chambers of owners of large pharmacies.”

Prepayment, calculators and surprises

Prepaid drug companies are also doing the same and, stripped of any control thanks to the deregulation brought about by Milea’s decree, they are given free rein to raise prices. In addition to the roughly 40 percent increase in January, health care providers have already announced increases of about 30 percent in February. The excuse in this case is that in order to “maintain adequate health care” they must increase fees. More importantly, the growth won’t stop until March, when the picture will expand by another 10 or 15 percent.

Branches, for their part, are informed through letters or emails and produce reports to predict how long they can maintain payment for a private service. If all the increases planned for the first quarter of 2024 are finally implemented, they can peak at 80-85 percent. As of the latest DNU, there are only two possible options: pay what the companies are asking for, or cancel.

In addition, these days there are other aspects that should be taken into account. Regardless of the increase in the amount of prepaid payments, a new phenomenon is registered: doctors who, for their part, decide to charge a co-payment even though they have not done so before. Apparently, an increase in the number of companies does not automatically lead to an increase in the cost of services provided by professionals.

Getting sick, however, is far from an option, because when the state leaves—or neoliberal governments themselves leave—the market works its usual magic: it “self-regulates.” So Only the most powerful players remain in power, and health becomes a right that only a few have access to.

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