Call for greater transparency as drug prices in Republic stay high

One year after introduction of law to reduce generic pricing, costs still remain expensive

Eamon Timmins of Age Action Ireland: “We need clarity and we need transparency as to the price of medications and that appears to be still lacking.”

Eamon Timmins of Age Action Ireland: “We need clarity and we need transparency as to the price of medications and that appears to be still lacking.”

Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 01:02

The Government needs to explain why enormous differentials still exist in the price of commonly used prescription drugs between the Republic and the UK and explain what measures it plans to introduce to reduce the price gap, according to a leading lobby group for older people.

A year after legislation was introduced aimed at bringing down the price of generic medications in the Republic to improve cost efficiencies for both the HSE and private patients, many drugs remain substantially higher in the Republic than elsewhere it the EU.

Last June, under the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013, a system of generic substitution and reference pricing for authorised medicines was introduced, but there appears to have been little downward price pressure on many drugs.

Generic medications to treat breast cancer, for example, can cost more than 10 times more here than in the UK while statins – which are used to regulate cholesterol – remain almost five times more expensive here than in Northern Ireland. This is despite being trumpeted as the drugs which would usher in a new fair- price regime in the Republic .

Donepezil, a commonly used generic medication to treat dementia, has a price tag of €1.56 in the UK but costs about €20 in the Republic, while drugs to treat blood pressure, which cost less than €2 in Newry, will cost about €6.50 in Dundalk.

Under the rules introduced last year, pharmacists can substitute a prescribed branded medicine for a safe and less-expensive generic version if it has been deemed interchangeable by the Irish Medicines Board (IMB). The first medicine to be deemed interchangeable was atorvastatin, with 96 atorvastatin products included on the list published last August in four groups.

Reference pricing allowed the HSE to set one price which it was willing to pay for groups of medicines on the IMB’s interchangeable list.

Like generic interchangeability, it is being introduced one medicine at a time, to ensure adequate supplies can be provided. The first reference price, for atorvastatin medicines, was published on November 1st, 2013, and was supposed to lead to lower prices across the board. That has yet to happen for many drugs.

“This is something which needs to be properly investigated and explained to people,” said Eamon Timmins of Age Action Ireland. “If we are talking about introducing greater health efficiencies across the sector, then this would be an obvious area to focus on,” he said. “We need clarity and we need transparency as to the price of medications and that appears to be still lacking.”