Some pharmacies charge up to 8 euros for a single FFP2 mask. Too much, some customers think, the masks are much cheaper online. Do pharmacists deserve a golden nose?
Contact restrictions are one thing, virus protection is another: FFP2 masks are playing an increasingly important role in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.
They should not only protect other people from the spread of their own droplets and aerosols, but also reduce the risk of infection for the wearer themselves through special filters. While they were in short supply in the spring and in some cases very expensive, they are now available in almost every pharmacy.
While high-risk patients receive three at the federal expense, all other people have to buy their FFP2 masks themselves. What is noticeable here: The prices for the special masks fluctuate widely – and in the pharmacy they are often much more expensive than on the Internet. This annoys many customers. They wonder whether pharmacists get rich from sales. t-online talked to several pharmacists about this and answered the most important questions about the business with masks.
How much do FFP2 masks cost in the pharmacy?
The sales prices in pharmacies vary – and in some cases considerably. While some pharmacies offer the masks for 2.95 euros, others charge between 5.45 euros and 6.95 euros each. A t-online reader even reported that he paid 8 euros for an FFP2 mask last week. For comparison: There are retailers on the Internet who want 29.90 euros for 20 masks, i.e. 1.50 euros per individual mask.
Why do prices fluctuate so much?
In short: because unlike prescription drugs, for example, there are no price restrictions. That means whoever sells masks – whether in the pharmacy or online – can determine for themselves how much money they ask their customers. This in turn also applies to those who make the masks or who deal with them in large numbers.
“I get ten faxes and 30 e-mails every week with very different offers from manufacturers and direct traders,” reports Robert Langner, head of the Löwen pharmacy in Potsdam. “In contrast to conventional pharmacy wholesalers, the prices at some direct dealers are extremely low.” Once he was offered 2,000 masks at a unit price of 70 cents plus VAT.
“But we didn’t order it because the producer didn’t inspire confidence,” he explains. He is on the lookout for counterfeits that lull those who wear them into a false sense of security. “And there are also masks that promise FFP2 protection, but may no longer offer it because they are too old.” So he plays it safe and prefers to buy from pharmacy wholesalers. “The prices there are significantly higher,” he says.
Manufacturers such as Brinkmann, who had already produced FFP2 masks before the Corona crisis, asked a lot. Several pharmacists confirmed that the protective masks in the wholesale trade sometimes cost more than 12 euros each. FFP2 masks for a purchase price of 1.30 euros plus VAT are among the cheapest offers in classic pharmacy wholesaling.
How much profit do the pharmacies make with the masks?
That cannot be said across the board, the profit margins can vary widely. Basically, even if a pharmacy buys the masks very cheaply for 70 cents each and sells them to their customers for 2.95 euros, this does not automatically result in a profit margin of more than 70 percent.
On the one hand, this is due to the fact that the purchase prices mentioned for the masks also fluctuate greatly between suppliers. “It is therefore a mixed calculation that takes different purchase prices into account,” says Langner.
On the other hand, it depends on what additional costs arise – for example the increased personnel costs that arise from the increase in customers. “The sales price is the result of a complex calculation,” says Axel Trischmann, who owns two pharmacies in Berlin. “Just putting the purchase and sales price in relation is far too short.”
Do the pharmacies enrich themselves by selling masks?
No. Not necessarily, anyway. Because even those who ensure high profit margins for FFP2 masks by setting prices, often only use this income to make up for what the business lacks elsewhere.
Because: Many pharmacies have made significantly less sales than usual with other over-the-counter drugs in the current year. One reason for this is that far fewer people have contracted other seasonal diseases, such as cold viruses, by wearing the masks. One consequence: nasal sprays and classic cold preparations such as Gelomyrtol, Sinupret or Grippostad C are much less in demand this winter.
“In addition, queues have often formed in front of the entrance recently,” explains Langner. That scares off some of the walk-in customers, which means that the remaining income continues to decline. “We have to plan that too.”
How is the handover of masks for high-risk patients going?
High-risk patients do not have to pay anything for the first three masks in the pharmacy; the federal government pays the costs for them. Specifically, this means: To cover the costs for the procurement and distribution of the pharmacies 6 euros per mask from the state treasury.
Critics find that this flat rate is very high, in view of the significantly lower purchase prices in some cases, too high. Apotheker Trischmann, on the other hand, defends the model. “The same applies here: the flat rate not only covers the purchase price,” he says. “At the end of the day, it also has to recoup the higher personnel and procurement costs.”
The problem, however, is that the system invites people to take advantage of the rules. It is true that the pharmacies should show ID cards and note the names of high-risk patients. “In practice, however, this does not prevent a person from visiting several pharmacies one after the other and picking himself up using all three masks,” says Trischmann. “In our two locations alone, I noticed that a customer first opened in one store and then in the other.”