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Putin Pops in for Pharmaceutical Price Check

Pharmacists in Murmansk received an unexpected visitor on Saturday when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was in the northern port city to discuss the fish industry, ordered his driver to stop so he could check on medicine prices.

"Are there any complaints from customers? Are you complying with [pricing] requirements on vital drugs?" he asked a pharmacist at a store owned by the 36.6 chain. Putin then asked for the price of Arbidol, a Russian-made medicine to treat the flu, which was included on the government's list of vital drugs.

As the store employees frantically began flipping through the pages of a catalog, Putin informed them, "We're not in a hurry." He and officials traveling with him had just visited a local fish factory and were on their way to a government meeting to discuss the industry.

The appearance was not the first time that Putin had decided — apparently on a whim — to drop by a retailer to chat with customers and check on prices.

In June, Putin and a crowd of Cabinet members made an unannounced visit to a Perekryostok supermarket in Moscow, wh ere the prime minister inspected meat prices and persuaded the chain's chief executive to lower pork prices.

Managers at the 36.6 outlet were luckier, earning Putin's praise after he discovered that Arbidol was selling for 212 rubles ($7.30), well below the maximum price of 267 rubles.

"The repricing was done on time. The main thing is for our suppliers not to let us down," one employee told him, according to comments on the government web site.

People in line assured the prime minister that some municipal drugstores offered even lower prices. "If there are prices cheaper than this — that's great," Putin said.

Earlier this month, the government began enforcing markup limits on a list of drugs that comprise about one-third of the Russian pharmaceutical market.

Under the law, the federal government set limits for each region on wholesale and retail markups on imported drugs, which are added to the declared price at customs. For Russian-made drugs, the markup is calculated from the production price.

Putin has made the war on high drug prices a prominent line of rhetoric, warning governors earlier this month that they would be held responsible if prices keep rising.

He also said drugstores could have their licenses revoked for violations.

Murmansk Governor Dmitry Dmitriyenko, who accompanied Putin on the price-check, was spared a potentially embarrassing dressing-down, however.

"Your chain is not bad," Putin told the 36.6 pharmacists. "It's good that you are living up to the expectations of the government and the customers," he said.

The pharmacy chain 36.6, which is traded on the MICEX stock exchange, also owns drug maker Veropharm, which produces branded and generic pharmaceuticals.


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