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Pharmaceuticals & Health Services


Competition policy is basically about making sure that companies compete with each other on an equal footing – on the basis of their products and prices – with no unfair advantages. The European Commission ensures fair competition in pharmaceutical, health services and medical devices markets. When pharmaceutical companies, medical devices companies or other health-related companies are deterred from unfair competition, citizens win. New, better products are developed. Prices go down. Health budgets are spared. The European Commission monitors the behaviour of companies and enforces the rules if necessary.

European citizens need access to innovative, safe and affordable health products and services. The health care sector of the economy accounted for over 9% of EU GDP in 2013 covering the pharmaceutical sector (prescription and non-prescription medicines), medical devices and health services. Healthcare systems are organised in different ways across the EU Member States, but most EU citizens would agree that universal access to good healthcare, at an affordable cost, is a basic need


The market for medicines is highly regulated within each country. National pricing and reimbursement rules for medicines are not harmonised within the single market. This leaves less room for competition on prices and so market forces cannot realise their full effect here as they do in most other industry sectors.

Furthermore, new medicines developed by "originator" or R&D companies are protected by exclusive rights such as patents. This means that competition among originator companies is more in the area of innovation, rather than prices. Still, once a medicine's patent expires, prices drop significantly when generic versions come onto the market.

Health Services

The EU shares competences with its Member States, who are responsible for providing health services and medical care within their territories (Article 168 of the TFEU).

Member States bear the largest share of health care costs, and private payers -mostly patients- will put up a quarter of these costs, equivalent to EUR 309 billion per year (in 2013). Total expenditure on health care is rising faster than economic growth in the EU, leading to an increasing ratio of health spending to GDP.

The role of the Commission

The Commission works to ensure that under these conditions, market players (Member States, national health services and pharmaceutical companies) respect the Treaty rules on free competition and the free movement of goods and services within the internal market.

With this goal in mind, the Competition DG monitors business practices as well as company mergers and State aid in the health care sector. In July 2010 it integrated its antitrust activities regarding all health care sectors in a new unit called "Antitrust: Pharma and Health services", responsible for competition law enforcement and advocacy for all health products and services.

The Commission cooperates with national competition authorities through the European Competition Network in this area, and the mandate of the European Competition Network Pharma subgroup has been extended to cover health services and health products other than pharmaceuticals.



State aid

Related links
"Competition in Pharmaceuticals: the challenges ahead post AstraZeneca" Competition policy newsletter 2007-1
Trade between the EU and other countries in pharmaceutical products
Competitiveness in the Healthcare Industries
Healthcare industry reference documents