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Prices drop for some meds but new ‘transaction fee’ for prescriptions
SCROLL DOWN FOR TEXT FILE OF FULL PRICE LIST
THE HEALTH ministry released a new price list for pharmaceuticals yesterday revealing some reductions in expensive drugs, a price-freeze on prescription meds under €10 and increases in over-the-counter (OTC) products.
But consumers’ groups have condemned the hike in OTC medicines, and the limited overall reductions, and criticised the health ministry for setting a €1.0 transaction fee for prescriptions processed in the private sector.
The price list contains 4,191 medications, of which the prices of less than half have been reduced. Prices have gone down for 1,892 medicines, the prices for 1,815 are unchanged, and 484 have had their price increased, the head of the pharmaceutical services, Arthur Isseyegh said.
“The 484 medicines that have had their price increased are mainly low-cost, non-prescription medicines which should not affect the consumer too much,” Isseyegh said. He was referring to over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, sold without prescription, which companies are now able to sell at whatever price they want.
The Consumer and Quality of Life Union however condemned the decision to allow prices of basic medicine, such as Aspirin and Panadol double in some cases. “They may be cheap (drugs) but they have a high consumption rate, so profits also hike,” the union said in a statement.
For example, the price of Aspirin (20 tabs) has gone up from €1.80 to €2.30, and Panadol cold and flu (24 tabs) now costs €5.36 compared with €4.86. It is understood that about half of all OTC drugs available in the market are now more expensive.
“Unfortunately the Cypriot consumer will continue buying the most expensive medicines in Europe,” the consumers' union said, adding that the public would continue using the internet to buy, or else bring them in from abroad, or through the north.
“The reductions on the price list are limited as they don’t cover all the categories of medicines with most reductions essentially being minimal,” the statement added.
But health minister Androulla Agrotou told state broadcaster CyBC that with the new reductions, Cyprus would no longer be on the list of countries with the most expensive medicines.
Isseyegh said the reductions amounted to a total of €9.5 million to €10 million for consumers. “Analytically if we look at it, consumers should save approximately €1.85 million in 2013 on high blood-pressure medicines with many being reduced by 50 per cent,” Isseyegh said. “Money saved on stomach-acid related disorders should reach around €2.4 million in 2013 and €1.3 million on antibiotics for systemic use,” he added.
Consumers actually spend some €250 million a year on drugs, about €110 worth through the public sector and the rest through private pharmacies, auditor general Chrystalla Georghadji said in her 2011 report.
Meanwhile, the consumers union also criticised as “humiliating and inhumane” the introduction of a transaction fee for prescription medicines that will give private pharmacies an additional €1.0 per transaction. Given that 468 private pharmacies serve around 200,000 consumers, if each had only one prescription a year, the new charge would yield several thousand extra euros per pharmacy in extra annual revenue.
“Is it not a disgrace and cruel for a pharmacist to demand a fee from every patient, every pensioner, every large family, every unemployed person and every unfortunate person who doesn’t have enough money to raise their children, depriving them the ability to buy their children milk?” the consumers’ union said.
Isseyegh said the fee exists in many European countries. “It paves the way towards procedures which will be applied in the national health scheme,” he said.
Pharmacies have a profit margin of up to 37 per cent of wholesale price – the second highest in the EU according to former health minister Stavros Malas. Cyprus also has the second highest ratio of pharmacies to consumers in the EU, with 468 private pharmacies catering to up to 25 per cent of the population, a maximum of 210,000 people.
DISY deputy Stella Kyriakidou, who sits on the House Health Committee, questioned the timing of the new price list. “I am wondering why these new prices were not imposed when the current regime first took power five years ago and they have yet again waited for one week before the elections to implement their policy?” she asked.
“Cypriot patients have to face serious financial difficulties and the price list should be looked at again to provide more reductions in the price of medicine,” she concluded.
The auditor general has said that if the price list is updated once a year, prices could be reduced up to 20 per cent. But the health ministry is due to review medicine prices again in two years, sticking to the same methodology.
Malas, the former health minister who is running for elections this February tried to push the price review forward by a year – to 2012 – and even promised reductions of up to 50 per cent.
Instead, the average reduction is closer to 7.0 per cent.
The health ministry sets prices by getting the average from the wholesale prices of four EU member states ranging from cheap (Greece) to expensive (Sweden). The two countries in the middle are France and Austria.
Prices for medicines costing €10 or less have remained unchanged to ensure that manufacturers continue making them. Manufacturers will not usually make a drug if they cannot meet a 10 per cent profit margin on the wholesale price. When prices plunged in 2005, many drugs disappeared from the market with the pharmacists’ association claiming that two-thirds of previously available medicines were no longer being sold.