Doc­tors urged to is­sue generic drugs to make health care more af­ford­able to all

▶ Costly branded med­i­ca­tion is a fac­tor in driv­ing up the price of in­sur­ance


Ex­pen­sive branded medicines pre­scribed by doc­tors are driv­ing up the cost of health care for in­sur­ers and em­ploy­ers, ex­perts said.

In­sur­ers also said too many physi­cians were send­ing pa­tients home with bags of un­nec­es­sary medicine. A study by UK med­i­cal com­pany Med­belle showed ex­treme price vari­a­tions world­wide for drugs to treat heart disease, blood pres­sure prob­lems, di­a­betes, asthma and anx­i­ety dis­or­ders.

The United States, Ger­many and the Emi­rates topped the list that mea­sured the dif­fer­ence in the cost of more than a dozen es­sen­tial drugs.

While the au­thors did not sin­gle out a spe­cific rea­son for the disparity, they said it should spark a dis­cus­sion on the in­equal­ity in pric­ing.

The Depart­ment of Health – Abu Dhabi last year told health­care cen­tres to dis­pense generic ver­sions in­stead of well-known brands.

Over the years, the Min­istry of Health has slashed the prices of medicine to make health care af­ford­able to all.

“Some good work is be­ing done, but there is room for im­prove­ment to make huge sav­ings by mov­ing more of the mar­ket to­wards generic al­ter­na­tives,” said Stephen Ma­cLaren, di­rec­tor of health at Mid­dle East in­sur­ance bro­kers AES In­ter­na­tional.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have manda­tory pri­vate med­i­cal in­sur­ance for all res­i­dents. That means pre­scrip­tion medicine is of­ten fully cov­ered, with some pack­ages re­quir­ing pa­tients to pay about 20 per cent.

But high costs borne by in­sur­ance com­pa­nies raise pre­mi­ums and mean busi­nesses are charged more per em­ployee.

Strin­gent li­cens­ing and re­peated test­ing was an­other fac­tor in driv­ing up costs in the topranked coun­tries.

The cost of trans­port­ing medicine to the Emi­rates from far­away pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties also con­trib­utes to higher costs, ex­perts said.

Doc­tors in the UAE said pa­tients with the most ba­sic med­i­cal cover may be the ones los­ing out.

“Pa­tients are cov­ered by in­sur­ance but for medicine for heart fail­ure, se­vere crit­i­cal coro­nary diseases or hy­per­ten­sion, the high price could limit ac­cess for a pa­tient,” said Dr Walid Shaker, con­sul­tant car­dio­tho­racic sur­geon at Bur­jeel Hospi­tal Abu Dhabi.

“Even though 80 per cent of the med­i­ca­tion cost is cov­ered by in­sur­ance, still some pa­tients in our com­mu­nity can­not af­ford to pay the 20 per cent in case of high-priced medicine.”

Res­i­dents who spon­sor fam­ily mem­bers and pay for the cheap­est pack­ages are also af­fected.

“They may de­lay treat­ment or some­times they may not come in to the med­i­cal fa­cil­ity at all be­cause of the pay­ment they need to make,” said Dr Thom­son Antony, a spe­cial­ist at Dubai’s Aster Clinic.

“The reg­u­la­tory li­cens­ing in coun­tries like the UAE is very strin­gent in or­der to main­tain qual­ity.

“Some groups of medicine re­quire to be li­censed and go for test­ing pe­ri­od­i­cally, so the cost can go up.”

The global study fac­tored in the av­er­age price of well­known phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal brands and generic ver­sions re­gard­less of whether the medicines were cov­ered by the coun­try’s health­care sys­tem or paid for by the pa­tient.

In­sur­ers said doc­tors pre­scrib­ing generic al­ter­na­tives would re­duce health­care costs in the UAE.

Med­belle said that by un­cov­er­ing the price im­bal­ance it hoped to ad­dress the global is­sue of bar­ri­ers ob­struct­ing ac­cess to health care.

“With this study, we hope to pro­vide pa­tients with a sim­i­lar stan­dard of trans­parency when it comes to medicine prices around the world,” said Daniel Kolb, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and co-founder at Med­belle.

In­sur­ers said too many physi­cians were send­ing pa­tients home with bags of un­nec­es­sary medicine

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