Sweden To End Pharmacy Monopoly
Sweden’s center-right government on Thursday outlined plans to open up the country’s market for prescription and non-prescription drugs to competition.
But the proposal has come in for massive criticism, both from retailers and the government’s own anti-competition authority.
The Apoteket chain of pharmacies is currently the sole provider of prescription and non-prescription medication in Sweden, meaning that Swedes wanting to buy a headache tablet or other over-the-counter products must go to one of Apoteket’s stores.
There are only 900 pharmacies in a country of 9 million, which means only one drugstore for every 10,000 residents.
”Medical products sold in Sweden are sold with quite a narrow margin but that margin can be tightened by having more (actors) to compete,” Social Minister Göran Hägglund told TT.
The government said the proposed changes would improve the availability of medicines for customers in the form of more pharmacies and longer opening hours, and create downward pressure on prices as more providers entered the market.
The government forecast both domestic and international interest in the Swedish pharmacy market.
”There is great interest from people who work in Apoteket to start up (pharmacies) independently but there are also international actors interested in entering the Swedish market,” Hägglund said.
Hägglund estimated the necessary changes to remove Apoteket’s 35-year-old monopoly would be in place by January 1, 2009.
Sweden’s government, which came to power in September following general elections that ousted the Social Democrats, had vowed to deregulate the pharmaceutical market in its election campaign.
But retailers have accused the governmentof betraying its promises, as the plan only allows for the creation of full-fledged pharmacies. The government has postponed action on its promise to allow the sale of non-prescription drugs in ordinary stores.
The anti-competition authorities have also criticised the proposal, saying that when Norway did the same thing, the result was rising prices for non-prescription medicines.
The critics say the government plan will only lead to the creation of a handful of pharmacy chains, with little competition to pull down prices.