Tue, Aug 07, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Drug companies accuse BNHI of limiting choice

PROTECTING THE PUBLIC? Pharmaceutical companies argue that name-brand drugs are being discriminated against by the Bureau of National Health Insurance

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

An association of pharmaceutical companies took out a half-page ad in a Chinese-language newspaper yesterday to express its displeasure at the Bureau of National Health Insurance's plan to lower the amount by which it reimburses medical professionals for their purchases of drugs.

Under the plan, which will go into effect on Sept. 1, the bureau will no longer cover the full cost of brand-name drugs if generic alternatives are available.

The ad, which ran on page five of the Chinese-language United Daily News, alleged that patients were being denied the right to choose. It was paid for by the International Research-based Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (IRPMA), whose members include 41 pharmaceutical companies, including the Taiwanese branches of pharmaceutical giants such as GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly and Company.

"Brand-name drugs are about to be driven out of the Taiwanese market. Who will show concern for the rights of innocent patients?" the ad said.

Officials said that the bureau would not pay a premium for brand-name drugs if generics were already available.

"Generics are the same drugs and have the same effect," bureau president and CEO Chu Tzer-ming (朱澤民) said. "Haven't the pharmaceutical companies earned enough from their patents?"

Asked how brand-name drugs were superior to generics, Carol Cheng (程馨), chief operating officer of the IRPMA, replied that patients often preferred brand-name drugs.

Generic drugs were described as "cheap, common drugs" in the IRPMA's ad, while brand-name drugs were described as being of "high quality."

"If you ask patients, especially those with chronic conditions, they can tell you stories," Cheng said. "They know what's effective and what's not effective."

Huang Chao-Ming (黃肇明), deputy director of the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Device unit at the bureau, said the reductions in reimbursements were prompted by the discovery that numerous hospitals were paying drug companies less than they were reporting and were therefore being overcompensated. Reimbursements for both generics and brand-name drugs had been reduced, Huang said.

The bureau director's office phone number was included in the IRPMA ad and the public was urged to call in to complain about the reductions. Chu said this was "inconsiderate."

"However, I don't care. There have not been that many calls," Chu said.

Huang said there had been fewer than 20 calls to Chu's office yesterday on the subject. Huang added that the callers seemed to be surprisingly well-informed on the issue and may have had vested interests.

"I have to say some of the callers seem extraordinarily cognizant of the pricing issue and pharmaceutical terminology," Huang said. "They seem very professional, if you know what I mean."

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