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Efforts to bring drug prices down in Ireland Posted 29/05/2015

Ireland’s Health Services Executive (HSE), which provides public health and social care services to everyone living in Ireland, reports that the average price of a pack of medicine provided to patients through their community drugs schemes in 2013 decreased to its lowest level in a decade.

The overall cost of medicines in the community drugs schemes fell by 4.3% from 2012 to 2013. Greater reductions (8.7%) were seen for the prices of medicines using the country’s general medical services (GMS) card. Patients using the GMS card receive their medicines after paying Euros 2.50 per item of prescription charge (up to a maximum charge of Euros 25.00 per family per month) and the pharmacist a dispensing fee but no mark-up.

Likewise, prices fell by 11.6% with the Long Term Illness (LTI) scheme, where the patient receives medicines for specific conditions, e.g. diabetes or epilepsy, free of charge, and by 8.9% for the Drug Payment scheme, where the patient pays a maximum of Euros 144 per month for medicines. In these two schemes, the pharmacist receives both a mark-up and a dispensing fee.

The Director of Commercial Affairs at the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), which represents the suppliers of originator medicines in the country, said ‘These reductions were achieved primarily through the effects of the supply agreement that IPHA has with the Department of Health & the HSE.’

The report evaluates the HSE’s Primary Care Reimbursement Service, which administers the delivery of a wide range of primary care services to the general public.

IPHA represents 47 research-based pharmaceutical companies. IPHA members’ innovative, patent-protected medicines currently represent about 45% of expenditure in the community drugs schemes. Through a series of price cuts from 2007 to 2015, the organization claims to have provided an estimated total of Euros 1.2 billion in savings to the State.

Ireland has come under the spotlight in recent years for paying more than the European Union average for medicines [1]. The IPHA defended themselves vociferously in 2013 following statements from the European Commission that drug prices in the country were unjustifiably high. Prices at the time were found to be at least three times more expensive than in the UK [2].

In 2014, HSE’s Chief Pharmacist, Shaun Flanagan, told the Irish media service RTÉ that the HSE is going through a programme of setting reference prices for generics, prioritizing drugs of highest cost and highest value. ‘We’re sequentially going down through all of those drugs. At this stage, we have completed 20,’ he said, adding that in April 2013 the HSE was spending Euros 11 million on those drugs, but that only Euros 4.9 million was being spent in March 2014.

According to an RTÉ report in March 2015, the IPHA’s Director of Operations had written to a senior official in Ireland’s Department of Health at the end of 2014 to outline the association’s concerns about government moves to reduce medicine prices. According to the report, IPHA argued that price cuts had resulted in significant job losses in the commercial part of the industry, with an estimated reduction in headcount of about 500 people over the past five years.

Related articles
Irish pharmacists’ perceptions and attitudes towards generics

Ireland passes bill to encourage generics use

Huge differences in prescription drug prices in Ireland

1.   GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. Ireland high drug prices cannot be justified [www.gabionline.net]. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2015 May 29]. Available from: www.gabionline.net/Pharma-News/Ireland-high-drug-prices-cannot-be-justified 
2.   GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. Ireland’s IPHA hits back at high drug prices claim [www.gabionline.net]. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2015 May 29]. Available from: www.gabionline.net/Pharma-News/Ireland-s-IPHA-hits-back-at-high-drug-prices-claim 

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Source: IPHA, RTE

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