Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dr. Simi! What is that funny costume you wear?

Price fixing. That's what my first legal temp job was about after graduating from law school. I worked in a windowless "war room" with several wannabe lawyers (whereas I just wanted to be working, and soon was, as a kind of legal journalist/law clerk), checking document after document for "compliance." We were looking for evidence of price fixing between several major agricultural giants, specifically on high fructose corn syrup. You rememember that stuff, right? That we're not supposed to consume because it doesn't affect satiety and you keep on eating or drinking more and more and OMG it's even in the ketchup and we can't get away and gah! Yeah, well move to Chile. We don't see much of it here. And blabla Michael Pollan and the Omnivore's Dilemma, and yeah I read it, and it was great, but that's not what this post is about. And I hope you never ever have to work in something called a "war room" in peacetime or during conflict.

So, price fixing. Not as pleasant as a prix fixe meal at your favorite French restaurant. Collusion among the major players in a field to keep the prices of certain products high, gaining more profits for the major players themselves, and fleecing the customers. In Chile a major pharmacy was recently fined chump change for admitting to having price fixed (fixed prices?) with two other pharmacies. The pharmacies in question are Salcobrand, Cruz Verde and FASA, which you may know by it's other name, Farmacias Ahumadas, which although it sounds like they might sell smoked salmon (salmón ahumado), they don't. Read more about the pharmacy situation (but sadly, not about smoked salmon) here.

Pharmacies are a major deal here, stand-alone businesses (though sometimes they're located inside the larger supermarkets) that are on corner after corner (and in the midblock) downtown. I used to live in Providencia, further uptown, near the corner of Eliodoro Yañez and Los Leones. I like to call that corner "dueling pharmacies" (with apologies to the composer of the piece Dueling Bajos made famous by the movie Deliverance, and yes, I had to look that up) because there were two giant pharmacies across the street from each other. Competition is rife, with "discounts" offered on certain days, and on certain products. I put discounts in quotes, since now we know the prices were artificially high to begin with.

So now that we know that the three major pharmacies are colluding to raise prices, or at least were, and that the recourse for consumers is a byzantine maze of mythic proportions, including receipts, which doesn't make any sense, because they know who we are and what we bought, as everyone has one of those points plans, and gives their RUT (national ID number) when they buy anything larger than a pack of gum, what's a drug-seeking gringa to do? I am quite sure I will not join the rebate club, but I will try, when possible, to patronize other pharmacies.

I know of one vaguely nearby neighborhood pharmacy, which I tried to use the last time I needed to buy something drugstore-related. It was a holiday weekend though, and so it was closed.

So I hunkered down, and went to talk to this man.

dr simi

This is the mascot? icon? big foam dude? that represents Dr. Simi, a low-budget pharmacy with a cheapie clinic attached. The chain opened fairly recently downtown, is only present in lower-income areas (it would seem) and has a company motto which is "the same, but cheaper." (Lo mismo, pero mas barato)

To be fair, you don't always see the man (what do you call this giant man with a person inside? Is it a mascot even though he's not an animal?), and in fact, I think this picture I snapped of him near the Mercado Central was the only time I've actually seen him. Most of the time the pharmacy just looks like a regular pharmacy, though they do sometimes pipe loud ranchera music into the street at the location near where I live (which is "bohemian" and not lower-class, they tell me, and I would have to agree that it is not lower-class, but I'm not too sure about the bohemian part). It's also open on all sides, whereas most other pharmacies have a door you have to open and walk through. This makes it seem a little like a garage, but as far as I can tell, they only sell medicine there, not even gum, and definitely not car parts (for this you will have to go to 10 de julio, trust me, and say hello to my friend S that works down there, please).

dr simi pharmacy

This photo I took near the Plaza de Armas, which apparently didn't used to be paved and now is paved, and it has a big fountain in the middle which people scoop water out of to pat down their hair in the summertime, and last night smelled a lot like a Y swimming pool, and also they were setting up (I think) the children's book fair. Beside the Plaza de Armas is also where an impromptu "Peruville" (my name) crops up at a number of times a day, with courier and money-wiring services and plates of chicken and rice and the dessert mazamora and other Peruvian delicacies (including Inca Cola and Sublime, a kind of chocolate candy), and lots of people speaking very well-pronounced Spanish.

plaza de armas

It turns out the pharmacy chain also has locations in Peru (as well as Guatemala and Argentina), where I don't know if they have price fixing but I mainly wonder if they have that guy. Anyone? Also, have we decided what that is called yet? I was thinking of getting a suit made that looked like me, that I could wear around. You know, in case I didn't feel like going out. Or in case I had to be in disguise. Very subtle.


Exley said...

Did I read that right? You need to use your national ID number (like a SSN in US) in order to buy prescription meds?Puts the whole CHEAP V1agr4 spam I get in perspective, also puts the lack of something similar for gun purchases here in the states in proper perspective as well.

Eileen said...

Sorry if that wasn't clear. We don't HAVE to use the SSN (or in this case, RUT) to buy meds, but many people collect points or get discounts by signing up with the pharmacy, and giving their number when they purchase. They do the same thing at the grocery store. I like to think somewhere out there they're putting together a picture of who I am and what I do. But in truth, (bought more flour! must be making bread!) I'm just not that interesting, so they're probably not.

Abby said...

Haha you cracked me up with this post. I think I remember hearing that Dr. Simi is a Mexican chain. I keep meaning to check it out, but (knock on wood) I haven't needed to buy medicine recently.

Oh, and I think you would call him a mascot despite not being an animal.

Sara said...

There are still a few little pharmacies like Dr. Simi. I need to try to go there more often.

Oh, your "Read more about the pharmacy situation (but sadly, not about smoked salmon)" cracked me up.

sorkod said...

I think there is sufficient precedent for the term "mascot" despite the lack of animalistic lineage. Various sports teams have adopted mascots in human form (albeit grossly exaggerated ones) i.e. Mr. Met (the mega-cephalic mascot of NY baseball), Viktor (the Jay Leno jawed Minnesota Viking), Captain Jolly Roger (the swashbuckling mascot of the Pitt. Pirates, arrrhhh!), the Swinging Friar (the dubiously ordained clergyman mascot of the San Diego Padres).
I think the bigger concerns are: does Dr. Simi only appear after you've consumed your purchase from this pharmacy? Do you see other people with Dr. Simi size heads? Does he appear in your dreams? If so, I would seek another "less bohemian" drug store and pay full price. ;-D

Eileen said...

@sorkod and @abby,

Okay, we can call him a mascot. But since in Spanish mascota means pet, it seems like he should be an animal to be a mascot. But I'll go with it, and defer to sorkod's superior knowlege of people with people inside. I had no idea.

The meds I bought from Dr. Simi were from Laboratorio de Chile, which is a brand that people trust here. So far no visions of grandeur, or even or grand heads, so I think I'm okay. Thanks for checking!

@Sara depending on where you live you might find a local pharmacy, not a chain. There are a couple around downtown, but the only one coming to mind right now is the one on the corner of Monjitas and Miraflores in Bellas Artes.

Bystander said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jade said...

Dr. Simi is the best! that's funny to see a picture of him LOL

Emily said...

It's all such a mess. I almost always go to Farmacias Ahumada because my Isapre gives me a 10% discount with them, but now I wonder just how much money I actually saved (if any) considering how high they were jacking up prices to begin with.

Don't know if you've seen either of these yet, but here's a map of the farmacias no coludidas (http://pare.cl/farmacias/index2.html) and a petition where you can add your voice (http://www.victimasdelasfarmacias.cl/).