Howlin plays down troika concerns over price of Irish drug prices

Troika concerns about medicine prices ‘not significant enough’ to be raised in talks this week, Minister says

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin (left) and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan. Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin (left) and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan. Photograph: Eric Luke

Sat, Nov 2, 2013, 01:00


Concerns held by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank about Irish drugs prices were “not significant enough” to be raised in talks this week, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has said.

On Thursday the head of the commission’s troika mission to Ireland, István Székely, told Fine Gael and Labour TDs prices were three times higher than those in the United Kingdom and could not be justified. However, Mr Howlin, speaking in London, appeared to downplay the troika’s views.

“I met the troika on Tuesday, they raised no such issue with me. In fact, they raised no issue of substance in relation to the ongoing programme,” he said.

“[They] expressed full confidence that we will live within the constraints that we have set ourselves as we have done with the 200 other commitments. So it is certainly not an issue that they regarded as significant enough to raise in the bilateral discussions with myself and Michael Noonan.”


Confident
He said he was confident savings agreed on drugs prices by the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive with pharmaceutical companies would be achieved.

“There is a countervailing pressure because we are introducing new drugs as they come on to the market, so that we can have world-class treatment available, so, of course, we have to keep very tight control over the cost of drugs to the HSE and consumers generally in the Irish market,” he said.


Prescription charges
Prescription charges were raised in the budget to €2.50 per item, subject to a ceiling of €25 a month for holders of medical cards. “We are confident that the expenditure profiles that we have agreed will be achieved,” Mr Howlin said.

He said the savings target for the central procurement office in the Department of Public Expenditure would be outlined in the revised estimates, including cuts in legal fees achieved by putting contracts to tender.

Until now, departments and agencies have bought “the same goods and services at different rates”, but he refused to outline the ambitions: “I’ll keep my powder dry on that until I see what the new chief procurement officer brings to me.”

The concerns of small businesses that they could be frozen out of State contracts have been dealt with to ensure they “can still tender effectively, that they can jointly tender, and so on. We are facilitating that over time, so there’ll be no great shock to the system.”

The changes will not be popular, Mr Howlin said: “There has been a significant pushback from GPs already but all we are doing is transposing on to those who provide services for the State the same cuts that we have imposed on people who work directly for the State.”