Public health systems in Europe can no longer pay their pharmaceutical bills and have started to do something about it.
What began in Spain and Greece as a response to budget deficits has now become a general trend. Now national drug-pricing authorities across Europe are taking on run-away health spending in the context of severe financial constraints.
Underway is a new harmonization in the way governments assess the value of medicines.
Germany recently decided to cut up to 2 billion euros from drug purchases. Spain will have cut 1.6 billion from its 2010 bill while paying from 7.5% to 25% less for generic and patented medicines. Greece and Italy have announced cuts of 1.2 and 1.6 billion respectively in public drug expenditures. Other countries that have also decided to pay lower prices for frequently used health products are: Denmark (40m), Belgium (380 million), France (250m.), Ireland (170 m.), Portugal (80 m) and Switzerland (200 m.).
Big pharma firms such as Glazosmithkline are already crying wolf and claiming that they won´t be able to finance the research of new drugs.
What is evident is that the present model of medical innovation is more and more unable to deliver the affordable products that our society needs. It is not only the poor countries of the global South or countries in eastern Europe, but even the wealthiest public health systems of the world that cannot bear the burden of exorbitant prices for medicine.
Maybe the time has come to stop leaving the future of access to medicines in the hands of a few pharmaceutical monopolies and to explore new models of making medicines that are fairer, more useful and more affordable.
This will be the objective of a conference in the European Parliament on November 18th organized by the TransAtlantic Consumer Diaolgue, Health Action International, Oxfam and Knowledge Ecology International under the auspices of MEPs Eva Joly, Thijs Berman and Carl Schlyter.
David Hammerstein, TACD