Czechs stock up on medicines ahead of price rise

A new regulation on medical care and medicines which goes into effect on April 1st is intended to improve the overall quality of healthcare by making life-saving treatment available for free to those who need it. However in order for this to be made possible patients will have to fork out more for other medicines. Fear of steep rises has sent people flocking to their GPs for prescription medicine and has resulted in long cues in pharmacies across the country.

People have been stocking up on everything they might need and more - from high blood pressure medicine to allergy pills. According to the new regulation the price increase will allow the latest, most modern medicine to be made available to those who need it for free- but in order to make that possible every Czech will allegedly have to pay an average 150 crowns more a year for other medicines. However few people are prepared to believe that -especially pensioners who already pay almost twice as much as younger people for their various medicines and fear that the insurance covered brands will be in short supply.

Seventy five year old Anna Cervenkova has diabetes and heart problems. She says that she pays on average 1200 to 1500 crowns a month for her medicine - a sum that the health ministry claims should be a pensioner's annual expenditure. The ministry counters that doctors are prescribing unnecessarily expensive medicines when there are cheaper alternatives on the market and say that people will have to be better informed - either by asking their doctor what else is available or by browsing the Net. This is a fairly scary prospect for many pensioners for whom the Internet is a foreign language and who are used to a paternalistic approach from their doctors. Although the new regulation aims to change this as well - making it a rule that doctors need written consent from their patients for all but the most basic medical procedures - even younger Czechs question the good sense of that. This man is thirty and he feels that the so-called "new rights" that come with the additional financial responsibilities are purely theoretical.

"I see no reason at all why I should have my say in medical decisions that I am not in a position to judge. Making the right decision requires a medical education and years of practice. It a big responsibility - so why should I be expected to tell doctors how to treat me or how not to treat me."

For the time being the new regulation has brought little more than chaos and crowded pharmacies. Doctors say they are not adequately informed about current prices and pharmacists fear that doctors will suddenly start prescribing other medicines leaving them with unwanted stock. The health ministry admits that all this is possible but it has appealed for patience, saying that the new regulation will prove its worth in the long-term and that many pharmaceutical companies will in time reduce the price of their products. Most people say they'll wait to see it to believe it.