New supplier heaps pressure on pharmacies to drop prices
Pharmacists are set to come under new pressure to reduce prices after a rival said it could supply medicines cheaper than they sell for in the North, Spain and Portugal.
It comes two weeks after the largest pharmacy chain in the country, Lloyds, slashed the price of prescription medicines by up to a third.
Now Limerick-based Limitless Health claims it can supply prescription drugs 60pc cheaper than they cost in retail chains and in community pharmacists.
The operation delivers nationwide and is planning to open another base in Dublin in September, said founder Dáire Scanlon, a pharmacist.
Similar to Healthwave in Dundrum, Dublin, consumers pay an annual subscription fee to Limitless Health.
They present their prescription to the pharmacist before their medication can be dispensed, either by calling to its Limerick premises, or by faxing or emailing it.
The membership fee is €20 for an individual and €45 for a family, with both branded and generic medicines supplied, Mr Scanlon said.
He said: "We are cheaper than any pharmacy outlet, cheaper than across the border, and cheaper than in Spain and Portugal."
Mr Scanlon, who also operates three retail pharmacy outlets in Limerick, said he does not charge a mark-up on privately bought medicines, or a dispensing fee.
Asked how he manages to undercut his rivals by up to 60pc, he said his prices were lower due to high volumes of sales, deals he does with wholesalers and his low-cost model.
He said LimitlessHealth.com sells a 28-day supply of Atorvastatin (10mg) for €2.52, compared with a price of €8.27.
Statins act to reduce cholesterol in the blood, and around 285,000 prescriptions were written for them in 2013, according to the Health Service Executive.
Mr Scanlon said his price for inhaler Symbicort 400/12 was €49.13, compared with €75.42 in retail pharmacies.
Almost half a million people use inhalers, but there is huge profit margin on them for pharmacists, industry experts said.
Studies have repeatedly found that medicine prices here are among the most expensive in the EU and up to three times higher than in the UK.
Cash buyers - those who do not have a medical card - tend to be charged hugely varying prices.