By Shane Phelan
HSE blows millions on overpriced medicines
E98m squandered each year n We pay 18 times UK prices
THE health service has been accused of squandering hundreds of millions of euro over the past decade by paying massively inflated prices for prescription drugs.
New industry figures seen by the Irish Independent reveal how manufacturers are being paid up to 18 times more for some generic drugs in Ireland than for the same products in the UK.
The figures indicate that up to €98m a year of taxpayers’ money could be saved on the medical card scheme alone if UK generic prices for some of the most popular medicines were being paid here.
The inflated costs — which stem from agreements between the HSE and the pharmaceutical industry — have been blamed on a number of factors.
These include the relatively small size of the Irish market and fears that drug companies could stop supplying certain vital products if forced to accept lower prices.
Industry figures show that the top 20 medicines prescribed under the medical card scheme cost the State almost €360m each year.
Nine of these brands have generic versions which are widely sold at a fraction of the original brand’s cost in the UK — despite being of equal quality.
However, in Ireland the same generics are only slightly cheaper than the branded versions.
Were these prices slashed to UK levels, between €89m and €98m could be saved on the medical card scheme each year, according to estimates.
Fine Gael health spokesman James Reilly, who obtained the figures, said urgent action was needed to close the price gap between Ireland and Britain for generic medicines.
“The question that has to be asked is how much money has been squandered paying inflated prices over the past decade? It is not millions, it is potentially billions,” he said.
The industry figures reveal how manufacturers in the UK charge the equivalent of just €1.11 for the generic ulcer drug Omeprazole. But the cost charged in Ireland is €20.
A similar generic prescription drug, Lansoprazole, is sold by manufacturers in the UK for €2.44, but costs €21 for the same quantity here.
Generic angina drug Amlodipine costs 49 cents from manufacturers in Britain, but is €8 here.
The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), which represents multinational pharmaceutical companies in Ireland, admitted there was a huge disparity in costs.
“In order to maintain the supply of a product, you have to pay a fair price.”
The spokesman added that Ireland had historically been “more pro-innovation” than other countries, leading to more of a reliance on patented drugs, which are more expensive.
Health Minister Mary Harney last month moved to reduce State expenditure on medicines by cutting payments to pharmacists, which will result in savings of €55m by the end of the year.
However, no significant move has yet been made to cut the amounts paid by pharmacists to manufacturers of generic drugs and later reimbursed by the HSE. Formal negotiations have yet to begin on new pricing levels to replace current agreements, which end in September next year.