Istvan Szekely, EC director of economic and financial affairs, told the delegation of Fine Gael and Labour TDs that pharmaceutical drug costs were an outstanding issue and were “not sustainable”.
Mr Szekely’s comments came after troika sources earlier this week told the Irish Examiner there were “substantial” savings still to be made through generic drugs which would be “less painful” than medical card changes.
In a private meeting with five Government TDs yesterday, the EC Troika chief said the costs of pharmaceutical drugs in Ireland were “three times more than your nearest neighbour”, sources on both sides of the talks confirmed.
This was “just not sustainable”, Mr Szekely then told the TDs.
Labour TD Kevin Humphreys confirmed the remarks.
Mr Szekely’s criticism came as senior officials with the Department of Health and the HSE met the Troika for three hours in Dublin yesterday and discussed the shortage in its 2013 budget and the €666m savings planned next year.
Health Minister James Reilly faces pressure to outline the €113m savings from a review of medical cards as well as the €248m through work-related savings under the Haddington Road deal, all proposed for next year.
His spokesman said there was a “considerable demonstration of progress and reform” given by health chiefs to the troika. Talks included plans to progress an eHealth strategy, as well as reference pricing, a system which reduces the cost of generic drugs.
However, Mr Szekely’s comments will add pressure on Dr Reilly to rein in pharmaceutical firms, hospitals and doctors’ practices and negotiate a greater and cheaper use of generic drugs throughout Ireland.
Dr Reilly will today announce cost reductions in cholesterol-controlling drugs through “reference pricing”.
Reference pricing, which includes generic drugs, involves the setting of a common reimbursement price for a group of interchangeable medicines. This is paid to pharmacies by the HSE, who say it will save them and patients cash.
The State’s bill for drugs and payments to pharmacists was €1.9bn in 2011 — around 13% of total spend on public health.