A law allowing the state to set up pharmacies failed to pass in the Lithuanian parliament as opposition MPs boycotted the vote.
The authors of the amendment to the Pharmacy Law argued that state-run pharmacies were needed to introduce more competition into the market, make drugs more affordable and accessible to low-income people, especially in remote areas. Meanwhile their opponents said the scheme would be a waste of funds and skew the market.
All 61 MPs who registered for the vote on Tuesday supported the bill. However, at least half of Lithuania's 141-seat parliament must vote on a law for it to pass.
MPs of the ruling Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS) accused the opposition of prioritising the interest of pharmaceutical businesses over those of patients. Meanwhile their opponents criticised attempts to “nationalise the economy”.
MP Ramūnas Karbauskis, the LVŽS leader, said before the vote that state-run pharmacies, which would operate in hospitals and outpatient clinics, were needed to give more choice to patients. “A wider network of pharmacies or greater competition would have a positive effect on prices,” he added.
Meanwhile liberal MP Aušrinė Armonaitė commented that instead of building a “state-run monster”, the government should use healthcare funds for patient treatment and subsidising drugs.
Reacting to the bill, the opposition and representatives of private pharmacies had previously said they would turn to the Constitutional Court and the European Commission, should the law be passed.
It is estimated that Lithuania now has 48 pharmacies per 100,000 people, well above the EU average of 25-27. Major retail chains have 233 pharmacies operating at medical institutions.