Health think-tank calls for unorthodox measures to cut drugs bill

Assorted pills

The Dutch government should take unorthodox measures if pharmaceutical firms are not prepared to ask a ‘socially acceptable price for their products in negotiations’, according to the government-backed Council for Health and Society.

The council, which looks at the relationship between the public health sector and society, said in a new report that if pharmaceutical firms don’t cut their prices, ‘the authorities will have to make use of the options that national and international regulations offer for making the medicine available for patients.’

These include allowing individual pharmacies to make the drugs themselves, allowing patients to order medicines themselves via the internet on a doctor’s prescription and giving other firms licences to produce the drugs.

Enforcing socially acceptable pricing will, the council says, encourage the commercial sector to develop medicines better, faster and more cheaply. They will also be forced take more account of failures in the development of new medicines.

‘The high prices are partially the consequence of an inefficient development process. The costs of failures are set off against the price of the medication that does reach the market,’ said chairwoman Pauline Meurs.

Limited powers

‘Another factor is the market power of the pharmaceutical companies and the limited counterweight provided by government, hospitals and health insurers.’

Health technology professor Carin Uyl-de Groot told the Volkskrant on Friday that she backs the idea of awarding licences to other drugs firms. ‘I think that the patient’s right to healthcare is more important than the pharmaceutical company’s patent rights,’ she said.

Last month, former health minister Edith Schippers refused to include the drug Orkambi in the basic healthcare package after failing to reach a deal on price with its maker Vertex. The drug costs some €170,000 per patient per year.

However,  Schippers said several days later she had  managed to strike a deal with Vertex – the details of which remain confidential – and the drug has been included in the basic package from November 1.

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