The Government is moving to reduce the cost of the medication Cariban which helps prevent extreme nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has confirmed.
A supply of Cariban can cost up to €45 a week, or between €1,500 and €3,000 over the course of a pregnancy, which is prohibitive for many women.
As a result of the high price, many pregnant women are resorting to buying it abroad and from strangers online, doctors have said.
Following several years of campaigning by backbench politicians including Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Mr Donnelly has confirmed he has ordered officials to find a solution to the adverse cost of the medication.
It is not clear whether the State will be in a position to fully subsidise the cost of the medication or only partly so. Mr Donnelly has told a private meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party that there is “good news” coming soon in relation to helping ease the cost of the medication.
The Irish Examiner has learned that Mr Donnelly has asked the HSE and the Women’s Health task force to find a solution to the cost issue in a speedy manner.
Unlike other drugs which the State pays for in total or partly subsidises, Cariban is classified as a supplement and this is presenting a difficulty in delivering a mechanism for reducing the cost.
According to sources, Mr Donnelly is convinced of the merits of the drug which many women say is their only relief during pregnancy, and is “very keen” to deliver a remedy very quickly.
At present, it is not available under the medical card or any community medical scheme, such as the drugs payment scheme, which limits the amount spent by private patients to €144 per month.
It is estimated that between one in every 100 and one in 200 women suffers from severe vomiting during pregnancy, known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum or HG, which can be profoundly debilitating. In opposition, Mr Donnelly was among a number of politicians who said the drug should be available through the medical card also.
In October 2018, Mr Donnelly told the then-Health Minister Simon Harris that all costs including, appointments, specialised care, drug treatment and hospitalisation, which fall within the parameters of maternity care, should also be universally available.
Hyperemesis Ireland, a national charity supporting sufferers of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy and its severe form said Mr Donnelly’s comments were “good news indeed”.
Responding to Mr Donnelly’s comments, Senator Clifford-Lee said the news represented “such a welcome development.” She said that as someone who took Cariban when she was pregnant, she can speak first-hand of its benefits.
She said: “I’ve been raising this for years. I know exactly how debilitating hyperemesis is and I took Cariban while pregnant. It’s essential. Well done to Hyperemesis Ireland on all of their hard work on this.”
Her colleague, Senator Catherine Ardagh highlighted the issue in the Seanad, stating that there has been a huge campaign to get the State to reimburse the costs.
She called on the health minister to prioritise this issue and to outline what immediate actions they are being taken to ensure that women with hyperemesis do not face further financial hardship in accessing the basic HSE-recommended drug.
“The drug at the moment costs about €45 per week. That will need to be taken over the whole course of the woman’s pregnancy. It is, therefore, a huge amount of money and it adds up,” she said.