The economic downturn has led to reductions in healthcare spending, necessitating cost-saving measures such as reference pricing.
As a result of the economic downturn, the government faces an extremely tight financial operating environment in the next few years. Ireland needs to make savings of over 1.0 billion euros (US$1.4 billion) in 2010, out of a health budget of 16.0 billion euros (US$22.2 billion). In order to do this, cost-saving measures will be implemented wherever possible.
Firstly, reference pricing will be introduced in 2010. Under the new system, only the reference drug selected by the HSE from a group of treatments will be reimbursed. In addition, although reimbursement for the over 70s was more or less automatic between 2001 and 2009, a means test has now been introduced, in attempt to slow consumption.
In February 2010, the prices of nearly 300 branded medicines were cut by 40%. It is anticipated that the move will make savings for the government of up to 94 million euros (US$130 million) over 12 months. The 40% reductions mean that many patented drugs are now cheaper than their generic versions.
Another measure currently being considered by the government is to impose prescription charges on the country’s 1.4 million medical card holders, of around 50 cent per item prescribed. This would work in two ways; by raising money and discouraging the over-prescribing of medicines. The Prime Minister claimed in November 2009 that this would generate savings of around 30 million euros (US$41 million) a year.
In addition, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) is calling for savings to be made through increased generic prescribing and reducing prices of generics. There is vast potential for savings in this area, as use of generics is currently very low. However, this is to try and support manufacturers based in the area, and so this is not likely to be a priority area for cost savings.
Further reading - A detailed analysis of the Irish pharmaceutical market is available from Espicom: The Pharmaceutical Market: Ireland (published May 2010)