BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Brad Hoylman wants to make sure that price gouging on medical supplies doesn’t “go viral” during the coronavirus scare.
Under legislation that the state senator introduced last week, the state attorney general could penalize retailers, manufacturers and distributors who raise prices on consumer medical supplies by more than 10 percent during a public health emergency.
“It’s said that after the storm come the vultures,” Hoylman said. “And that’s exactly what could happen here if we don’t act now to stop price gouging in anticipation of the coronavirus outbreak here in New York. Profiting off fear of disease is unconscionable. We can’t allow shady businesses to hike prices on the supplies New Yorkers need to stay safe and healthy, like hand sanitizer and face masks.
“And, remember, the U.S. surgeon general has made it clear that face masks won’t help healthy people avoid COVID-19: The best way to stay healthy is by washing hands regularly and getting the flu shot,” Hoylman added.
In response to growing fears of coronavirus, retailers have begun price gouging on consumer medical supplies. Prices on items like face masks and hand sanitizer have skyrocketed in Manhattan, including in the Upper West Side and Chinatown, due to apparent price gouging from retailers or distributors.
The New York Post recently reported that a Garment District hardware store was selling 40-ounce bottles of Purell for $79 each. Before the coronavirus outbreak, the same bottle retailed for $5.49. The business, Scheman & Grant Hardware, reportedly also was selling 10-packs of 3M respirator masks for $60, though they normally go for $22.97 elsewhere. The Post article led to investigators from the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection fining the store $500 for the face-mask price gouging.
In areas of the world where coronavirus is most prevalent, price gouging is a major issue: Amazon announced tens of thousands of third-party listings unfairly charged customers for medical supplies, and countries including Italy and Australia have already seen massive price gouging.
Hoylman’s legislation would amend New York’s price-gouging statute to establish that an “unconscionable excessive price” is a price greater than 10 percent higher than before a public health emergency began. The bill would prohibit selling consumer medical supplies (such as hand sanitizer, face masks and over-the-counter medications) during a public health crisis at an unconscionably excessive price. The law would also empower the New York attorney general to enforce a civil penalty of up to $25,000 against businesses proven to have participated in price gouging.
Currently, 34 states and the District of Columbia have price-gouging statutes. While New York law does not currently define what an “unconscionable excessive” price increase is, states including California and New Jersey have established a 10 percent price increase as the threshold for price gouging.