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