New drug cost-cutting scheme

Price reductions for cholesterol-lowering drugs are being implemented following the introduction of new control measures on drug costs.

According to Health Minister James Reilly, the introduction of this first reference price, for a medicine which is used to control cholesterol (atorvastatin), represents a major step in ensuring lower prices are paid for these medicines.

The new cost-cutting system already allows pharmacists to change a named drug on a prescription to a cheaper version of the same drug.

The new reference prices for atorvastatin products means the HSE will now pay 70% less for these products compared to May 2013. The Department of Health says private patients will save on the cost of their medication if it is reference priced and taxpayers will benefit from the reduced prices paid by the HSE.

Reference prices are being introduced from today on a phased basis for different groups of drugs.

Reference pricing involves the setting of a common State reimbursement price, or reference price, for a group of interchangeable medicines that can be used by patients to treat the same condition.

The new system being introduced today means that one maximum reference price is set for each group or list of interchangeable medicines, and this is the only price that the HSE will reimburse to pharmacies for all medicines in the group, regardless of the individual medicine price.

The next reference price to be set will be for esomeprazole products, used to treat stomach conditions. It is planned that prices for this group of products will be put in place by the beginning of December.

The Department of Health said atorvastatin products were addressed first because they are the highest cost group of products reimbursed by the HSE on State schemes.

Generic substitution, which was introduced recently, allows pharmacists to dispense a generic, and usually cheaper version of a product, even if the branded name is included on the prescription. Private patients, as well as State schemes, can benefit cost-wise from this.

The new reference pricing system applies to prescriptions for 'free drugs' dispensed under State schemes, such as the medical card scheme and the Long-Term Illness Scheme, and is mainly aimed at cutting the State's drugs bill.

The Department says private patients will also benefit from cost reductions if they are dispensed a reference-priced drug.

Patients covered by State schemes such as the medical card scheme who insist on receiving the more expensive drug on their prescription and do not want a substitute, will have to pay the difference between the reference price and the price of the drug named on the prescription.

Medical Card patients are also subject to prescription charges.

An information and education campaign on the new cost-cutting system, aimed at both health professionals and the public, is continuing.

Patient information leaflets are being delivered to all community pharmacies and GP surgeries.



[Posted: Fri 01/11/2013]


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