DOJ Threatens to Prosecute Any Company Fixing Medical Item Prices to Capitalize on Coronavirus
The Justice Department on Monday threatened to prosecute any individual or company seeking to profit off the fear of the American people as the coronavirus spreads across the nation by gouging the prices of items people are buying to combat the deadly virus.
Any individual or company that violates U.S. antitrust laws relating to the manufacturing, distribution, or sale of public health products such as face masks, respirators, and diagnostics will be held accountable, the DOJ said in a statement. In particular, entities that “fix prices” or “rig bids” for personal health protection equipment like sterile gloves or face masks could face criminal prosecution.
The Justice Department also threatened prosecution for competitors who agree to allocate consumers of public health products among themselves.
“The Department of Justice stands ready to make sure that bad actors do not take advantage of emergency response efforts, healthcare providers, or the American people during this crucial time,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. “I am committed to ensuring that the department’s resources are available to combat any wrongdoing and protect the public.”
Also on Monday, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission on Monday sent a letter to seven companies regarding accusations that they were selling fraudulent health products.
Barr’s warning comes after the Consumer Brands Association wrote to the attorney general on Monday asking that the DOJ prevent companies from hiking the prices of items Americans are buying to protect against the coronavirus, such as hand sanitizers, tissues, and face masks.
The group praised the DOJ’s “swift response” to their request to “ensure American consumers have access to critical products at affordable prices.”
“Price gouging undermines that mission and threatens public health as we navigate coronavirus,” the group said in a statement.
The coronavirus, a respiratory illness that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed nearly 4,000 people globally and infected over 113,000. The U.S. has at least 565 cases, and 22 people have died in the states.
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