Non-prescription drugs used under guidance such as glucosamine are to be excluded, all at once or in stages, from National Health Insurance (NHI) coverage in accordance with the NHI Act (全民健康保險法), the NHI Administration said.
Medicines are classified into prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs used under the guidance of a physician or a pharmacist and non-prescription over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. While OTC drugs are always self-paid, non-prescription drugs that should be used according to a professional’s directives, or behind-the-counter (BTC) drugs, have been partly covered by the NHI.
The NHI Administration said the NHI Act stipulates that the expenses arising from BTC drugs are not to be covered by the NHI, and they are currently partially covered for historical reasons rather than legal ones.
“The Labor Insurance and the Government Employee and School Staff Insurance both had some BTC drugs covered before the launch of the NHI [in 1995], so it was a matter of continuance, considering people’s needs, for the NHI to provide the coverage while evaluating the need annually,” the agency said.
The agency canceled the payments for 176 antacid BTC drugs in 2005 and 240 kinds of vitamin, electrolyte and enzyme drugs that need to be used under professional guidance in 2006. A total of 1,125 BTC drugs are still covered by the NHI, the NHI Administration said, and the proposal to exclude them from the coverage will be assessed by the NHI Committee and implemented, if passed, at the end of the year at the earliest.
The time needed to implement the policy, which is expected to have a great impact on more than 1 million people, will also be evaluated by the committee, it said.
The BTC drugs cost the NHI about NT$2.2 billion (US$73 million) a year, administration official Shih Ju-liang (施如亮) said, with payments made for glucosamine accounting for the majority.
“There have been plenty of studies suggesting the lack of efficacy of glucosamine [in relieving osteoarthritis pain],” she said. “And we can use the money [saved from the cancelation of NHI coverage of BTC drugs] to support the drugs for acute and severe diseases.”