Generic drugs to save State €100m

UP to €100 million will be saved on Government medical costs annually following a decision to allow pharmacists prescribe cheaper over-the-counter drugs to medical card holders.

Minister of State for Health Tim O’Malley said yesterday legislation by Health Minister Mary Harney will give pharmacists the right to substitute expensive brand drugs with a cheaper generic product.

Pharmacists are obliged to dispense a branded product if it is specified in a doctor’s prescription unlike many of their European colleagues who have the discretion to dispense a generic product instead of the brand specified by a doctor.

Over 70% of the State’s entire drugs bill is paid by the Department of Health with approximately one million people availing of the medical card scheme.

A 2003 Deloitte and Touche review of this scheme, the Drugs Payments Scheme (DPS) and other programmes such as the Long Term Illness Scheme (LTI) showed their overall costs had risen six-fold from €493 million to €1.4 billion in 2003.

The rise in prescribing and the widespread use of branded drugs was cited as one of the reasons for the escalating bill which is putting a growing strain on the health budget.

“As the system currently operates there is no requirement for participants in the GMS system to prescribe cheaper but equally effective drugs and medications. Retail pharmacies negotiate discounts with wholesalers for drugs supplied under the GMS, DPS or LTI, which results in a situation where pharmacists may benefit financially from the prescription of higher-cost drugs and medical products,” it said.

Director of Consumer Affairs Carmel Foley said last night the move to generic drugs was a “step in the right direction.”

Mr O’Malley, a qualified pharmacist, said: “I feel that in the first year alone, if a new regulation was brought in on the dispensing of less expensive generic drugs, there would be a saving of more than €20m.”

The minister said this saving would rise to €100m by making the public more informed about generic drugs. “The introduction of legislation would save the State a huge amount of money with the co-operation of doctors and pharmacists and getting the public informed on generic drugs.” He said it would also generate many jobs as there is a large generic drug industry base in this country.

President of the pharmacist representative group, the Irish Pharmaceutical Union, Karl Hilton said they warmly welcomed the move and it would have a significant impact on the State’s drug bills.

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