Pharmaceutical Accountability Foundation

‘The era of Pharma Piracy and Greedy Pharma is over’

Translation of the Op-Ed by Emily Dowdalls in Dutch journal Het Parool of Friday 6 May 2022

Find the original (Dutch) article here.

Gerard Schouw responded on April 21 to the column by Marcel Levi, who two weeks earlier called for people to stop wasting money on excessively priced medicines. Schouw blames Levi for a flawed analysis and claims to refute this with figures: ‘The share spent on medicines (6.6 billion) of the total (80 billion) has been around 8 percent for years,’ he writes.

But here Schouw combines the slightly cheaper medicines from the pharmacy with the again more expensive medicines in the hospitals. This total is still higher compared to previous years.

The effect of the Dutch Medicines Prices Act (Wgp), which should ensure much-needed cost reductions, is being negated by the excessively priced newer medicines in hospitals. These have increased by an average of 9 percent per year over the past four years, to 2.82 billion euros in 2020. And this is a major problem. The Dutch Zorginstituut warns that this will consume the financial space in (hospital) care.

Business thinking
This consuming of finances is also called ‘Displacement of Care’; those hundreds of millions of euros extra per year that are spent on excessively priced medicines cannot be spent on, for example, eliminating the gigantic shortages for (youth) mental health care, nursing hands at the bedside or on disease prevention.

Schouw complains about a negative image of pharma companies and invokes the results of pharma companies in the pandemic. That’s peculiar. Because the excessive annual figures, long-term vaccine scarcity, unfair worldwide distribution, and defense of patents show that in the public-private partnership with large public investments, risk coverage and interests, current business thinking and acting is a major problem and health risk.

The Dutch healthcare budget must be spent on accessible and affordable healthcare: Fair Prices for the medicines people depend on. Prices of those medicines should be transparently substantiated during price negotiations. Now the government and healthcare institutions are in the dark about the share of research and production costs incurred and the calculated profit margin. And therefore also whether it is appropriate for the public investments made and the public purpose that medicines should serve.

Fortunately, there are also solutions for the aforementioned bottlenecks. The Pharmaceutical Accountability Foundation pleads for a legally enforceable Duty of Care for pharmaceutical companies, as which doctors, pharmacists, government, health insurers and hospitals already have. The current position of pharma exception is no longer sustainable in view of the experiences with the pandemic, the large number of new treatments in the pipeline and the aging population.

Public money is not for making high profits. The era of Pharma Piracy and Greedy Pharma has come to an end; companies too must take care of the society in which they exist. We are convinced they can.

Emily Dowdalls is a pharmacist (non-practising) and project coordinator at the Pharmaceutical Accountability Foundation.

This Op/Ed was published online and in the paper. Find the Dutch online version here.

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