Pharmaceutical firms ‘dismayed’ by Varadkar accusation

Minister said companies charge State ‘unbelievably high prices’ for lifesaving drugs

Major Irish-based pharmaceutical companies have criticised Minister for Health Leo Varadkar over his claim that firms are charging Ireland "unbelievably high prices" for lifesaving new drugs.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) says its members are "dismayed and disappointed" at Mr Varadkar's accusation of "greed incorporate" in the sector in relation to the pricing of new medicines.

The Minister made his remarks at the launch of the Health Service Executive (HSE) national service plan earlier this week, and repeated them in the Dáil on Thursday, where he said dealing with drug companies brought out "whatever socialist instincts may be buried in me".

In a strongly worded letter to the Minister, the IPHA said his accusations bore no resemblance to the way its member companies set prices with the HSE.

His remarks gave a “seriously misleading impression” of how the 40 international companies in the IPHA set prices with the State, it said.

An agreement on the pricing of patented drugs, which was concluded in 2012, ran out last October and talks between the association and the health service on a new deal are due to start soon.

Soaring cost

The HSE can’t afford to increase its budget for high-tech drugs next year, despite the soaring cost of new treatments for cancer, cystic fibrosis and other diseases.

Mr Varadkar and the HSE are hoping that the new deal will result in significant savings in the State’s drug bill.

Oliver O’Connor, chief executive of IPHA, said that drug spending does not represent a crisis for the national finances.

He said that there was no evidence that the pricing policies of his members have put the health budget under severe strain.

“The opposite has been the case: our members, through our agreements with your predecessors, have made significant contributions to the stabilisation of the national finances.”

Mr O’Connor, referring to HSE projections for drug spending, said the State could not continue to rely on his members to fund new demand for existing medicines and demand for new medicines.