Rumors that the Ministry of Health and Welfare is planning to bring new hepatitis C drugs under National Health Insurance (NHI) coverage has led medical groups and legislators to express concerns that the cost of the drug would shrink the budget for other types of medical expenses.
Four new hepatitis C drugs have obtained permits in Taiwan recently and several doctors said that the cure rates of these drugs are more than 90 percent, with fewer side affects and a shorter course of treatment, but added that the estimated price for treatment ranges between NT$800,000 and NT$2.5 million (US$24,781 and US$77,442), a price that many patients cannot afford.
The NHI Administration was said to be planning to allocate NT$80 billion for funding hepatitis C treatment with the new drugs for 10 years.
On Wednesday, Taiwan Medical Association and four medical associations issued a joint statement, saying that they are glad to see the introduction of the new drug to cure more hepatitis C patients, but they are worried that the budget might be underfunded and that it would shrink the medical resources for treating other diseases.
Association director-general Su Ching-chuan (蘇清泉) said that the NHI allocated a budget of about NT$13 billion for new drugs for five years, but actual expenses on new drugs were NT$39.2 billion, so the hospitals had to make up for the gap between the budget and actual expenses.
At a legislative session yesterday, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Ching-yi (林靜儀) said as NT$80 billion is said to be allocated especially for hepatitis C treatment, it would shrink the budget for treating other diseases.
She said she has heard that hospitals only get NHI subsidy of about NT$55 per day for treating each psychiatric patient and acute psychiatric in-patient services only allow patients to be hospitalized for up to two months.
Administration chief-secretary Shen Mao-ting (沈茂庭) said the agency has received information about bringing new hepatitis C drugs under NHI coverage, but added that a decision has not been made and the issue would be handed over to the NHI Medical Expenditure Negotiation Committee to decide if the cost is too high.
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