European patients miss out due to drug pricing imbalance

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Chanice Henry

As the globe’s health systems groan under financial pressure, analysts have identified large differences in the amounts European patients pay for generics

Shifting patients from branded to less expensive generic medicines is an important way to maintain health care costs. Yet research has discovered that the prices and prescription rates of generics vary widely across Europe, resulting in missed opportunities for cash-strapped health systems and patients.

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Prices charged by manufacturers in Switzerland are more than two and a half times those in Germany and more than six times of those in the UK.

The study led by researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at data relating to more than 3,000 generic drugs in 13 European countries.

Findings revealed that prices charged by manufacturers in Switzerland are, on average, more than two and a half times those in Germany and more than six times those in the United Kingdom, based on one commonly used price index.

Olivier J. Wouters, a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science and lead author of the study, said: “Having patients consume generic drugs instead of their more expensive brand name counterparts is among the most cost-effective interventions in health care, with potentially hundreds of millions of Euros currently being wasted. Policymakers in Europe and the U.S. should do more to break down the barriers preventing timely access to affordable generic drugs for patients.”

The proportion of prescriptions for generics written in Europe ranges from 17 per cent in Switzerland to 83 per cent in the United Kingdom. By contrast, in the US roughly 9 out of 10 prescriptions are filled generically.

Generic medicines are bioequivalent replicas of brand name drugs, containing the same active ingredients and with very similar quality, safety, and efficacy profiles. A generic can be sold for a fraction of the price of the patented drug.

There are many elements stifling the use of generic drugs, including misperceptions among patients and the lobbying powers of special interest groups.