Figures for medicines stir controversy

Generic drugs have become more popular with the Swiss recently Keystone

Original pharmaceuticals and generic drugs are far too expensive in Switzerland compared with other European countries according to health insurers.

This content was published on June 9, 2006 minutes

The pharmaceutical industry says however that figures presented by Santésuisse - the insurers' umbrella organisation - are out of date and misleading.

Santésuisse says the cost of drugs in Switzerland is up to a quarter higher than elsewhere in Europe and that dropping prices could lead to savings worth up to SFr1 billion ($813 million).

The lobby group's second comparative study of drug prices, presented on Friday, shows that originals cost 20 per cent more on average, while the difference rose to 25 per cent for generics.

Santésuisse's comparison of the prices of the 100 most sold original pharmaceuticals in seven European countries last year showed that Switzerland was "only" 16 per cent more expensive than in Germany, but 36 per cent more than Austria.

The organisation reckons that by pegging Swiss prices against the European average, savings could reach at least SFr532 million.

It also claims that by replacing original preparations by the cheapest available generics, there would a savings potential of another SFr280 million. Cutting generic prices to European levels could also save another SFr120 million.

Santésuisse director Marc-André Giger said insurers could contribute significantly to the price debate if they became more involved. He also called for pricing of original pharmaceuticals to be evaluated more regularly than at present.

He added that prices should be set according to a product's effectiveness and usefulness, especially when the time remaining on its patent protection diminishes.

Giger also demanded that products with little innovation be only allowed on prescription drug lists at lower prices.

Out of date

Interpharma, the pharmaceutical industry's association, has criticised Santésuisse for presenting figures that it says are already out of date. According to its own more recent numbers, the 100 most popular drugs sold in German pharmacies are now 1.4 per cent more expensive than in Switzerland.

Interpharma says that pharmaceutical costs are being reined in thanks to measures taken over the past few years, including increased sales of generics and lower prices for older medications, as well as patients taking a bigger share of the cost burden.

But it adds that the biggest impact on prices comes from last year's agreement with the Federal Health Office, with savings potentially more than the originally estimated SFr250 million.

Interpharma reckons that by the end of July, the prices of around 1,400 prescription drugs will have fallen by 30 per cent, with the cost of just 21 medications having risen in the first half of 2006.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The accord signed last year between the Federal Health Office and the pharmaceutical industry aims to save SFr250 million on drug prices.

Price differences found for an older product sold in Switzerland and abroad should disappear under the terms of the agreement.

Price differences for products no longer benefiting from patent protection is usually around 20 per cent, but can reach as much as 50 per cent.

According to the Federal Health Office, the deal should help shave one per cent off the cost of health insurance premiums.

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