Ginkgo leaf extract as a National Health Insurance-covered prescription drug will be phased out due to a lack of solid evidence of its clinical effectiveness, the National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) said.
Ginkgo biloba extract has been permitted by the health authority for medical use as a supplement treatment for peripheral arterial disease (PAD). While countries such as the US, Canada and Japan classify the extract as functional food, ginkgo falls under the category of drugs in Taiwan, the agency said.
As of last month, a total of 59 drug items containing ginkgo extract —— 14 in oral liquid or drop forms, six as injections and 39 as tablets — were covered by the National Health Insurance (NHI), the agency said. Of the 59, 52 are prescription drugs.
In October 2006, the NHIA began restricting NHI reimbursements to medical facilities that exceed a certain prescription rate of ginkgo-based medicines.
The measure has achieved commendable results, the agency said, pointing to a decrease in the expense for ginkgo-containing drugs from NT$270 million (US$8.97 million) in 2005 to NT$160 million in 2007. The total expenditure for prescribed ginkgo leaf extracts was further reduced to NT$49 million and the number of prescriptions down to 460,000.
The Food and Drug Administration will gradually have ginkgo medicines reclassified as over-the-counter drugs that can be procured without a doctor’s prescription, but have to be used with instructions from physicians or pharmaceutical personnel, according to the NHIA.
The agency said the decision was made out of the consideration that the efficacy of ginkgo extract has not been proved by consistent evidence of benefit. It added that it is mulling suspending NHI coverage for ginkgo extract.