Pharmacies see sharp drop in sales


The Czech health system continues to be a political hot potato. The recent controversial introduction of fees for doctor’s visits by the government is just one in a series of proposed reforms to the healthcare system in the country. However, as new figures from pharmacies are released, showing a sharp drop in sales, these measures are again coming under scrutiny.

A recent survey of almost a hundred Czech pharmacies suggests that sales fell by as much as 25% in January. In layman’s terms, fewer patients are arriving at pharmacies carrying doctor’s prescriptions. The figures also suggest that the number of prescriptions that have been issued has fallen by a third. So does this mean that the recently introduced doctor’s fees of 30 crowns (around two US dollars) a visit are discouraging those in need from seeking medical assistance? I asked Josef Mrázek of the Czech Patient’s Association for his take:

“These figures are related to the fact that in the final quarter of last year, sales in pharmacies were actually much higher. Because patients, reacting to all sorts of ominous news reports of rising prices tried to stock up on supplies of drugs, so this affected sales considerably. This obviously has fallen since, because those drugs will run out and the patients will again be forced to go out and get more. So the sales figures should return to normal.”

In recent months, Czech patients have not only seen the introduction of doctor’s fees, but also changes in the prices paid for prescription drugs.

“This has resulted in a slight fall in sales in Czech pharmacies, because the profit margins for them have come down, particularly among the more expensive drugs. And, apart from that, the costs and also the amounts that the patients themselves must pay will continue to be altered throughout the year. It’s a complicated process, and is being done on a drug-by-drug basis. Only once all these changes are calculated in, will we be able to assess the impact. But the changes are such that in the end, there won’t really be a significant change in sales in pharmacies. So I think that in the final quarter of the year, Czech pharmacies will be in the same shape as they were before.”

I asked Josef Mrázek if he thought that the recently introduced doctor’s visitation fees might actually have been a good idea.

“These payments, and I am absolutely convinced of this, are completely unconstitutional. Anyone who knows health law, knows that these payments contradict the constitutional right in which healthcare is to be provided as free at point-of-use, and is paid for by a system of health insurance. Of course this health-care is not for free, but article 31 of the Constitution, clearly states that healthcare is free at point-of-use. So it should be done like this, not through individual payments. That means that it is not important who will get ill, but who is able to pay. I don’t know how the Constitutional court will decide on this case, but if it decides according to the law, then they would certainly have to conclude that these charges are unconstitutional.”

The government clearly disagrees with the above assessment. But what is undisputable is that health-care, along with pensions, remain very thorny issues in the Czech Republic, and governments often tamper with them, however strong the need for reform, at their peril.