Photo of woman by Tamsin Ross Van Lessen
Many things annoy me about Germany (note to Mr. Sarrazin – I am genetically 100% German, so I'm prone to jammer und bitch without restraint, it's in my DNA): the pathetic number of cash machines, the way doctor's receptionists say "aber viel Wartezeit mitbringen" every time you ring them if you can actually reach them, the way you always get warm froth when you ask for milk with your tea.
But nothing, NOTHING, pisses me off as much as the price of aspirin. Whenever I have a layover at Heathrow, I pop into Boots to get my heart racing. According to a recent article in Die Zeit, in Germany the price of aspirin is 10 times higher than in the UK! And in Germany there is no generic alternative to the wonderful Bayer, who, after all, invented the stuff in 1899.
It doesn't stop with aspirin. In fact, the price of virtually every med is higher in the Bundesrepublik than anywhere else in Europe. Take Yasmin, the popular "Antibabypille" which is produced at the Bayer (formerly Schering) factory right here in Berlin-Wedding. In the UK a three-month pack of the birth control pills costs the equivalent of €16.80. In Germany, where it's actually produced, the price is an insane €39.80 – and it's not covered by German insurance. Usually things are cheaper in the country they are produced, i.e. German beer is cheaper in Germany than elsewhere. When it comes to pills and Germany, the exact opposite is true. There's even a whole reimport industry surrounding these pills: German businessmen buy up German-made Yasmin pills in places like Portugal and ship them back to the fatherland where they sell them for five euros less, but still make a killing.
Why all this madness? The big pharma lobby, of course. As the Zeit article only very patchily explains, the pill-makers pamper doctors (bribe them essentially) and threaten MPs to cut jobs. Last spring EXBERLINER showed in "The Industry of Pain" how in the case of migraine treatments, doctors are essentially reduced to the roll of drug dealers for expensive pharma products of questionable value.
Is there a way to fight it? Health minister Philip Rösler has tried to pressure the pharma companies to reduce their prices by imposing restrictions on the way they negotiate with insurance companies...but that will be piecemeal at best. Don't forget, Rösler is from the FDP, aka the "pharmacist's party".
There's a better way: every time you go abroad, buy an XL pack of aspirin - and Antibabypillen.