NEWS

Patients and health system have to swallow the rising cost of medicines

With drugs an increasing financial drain on social security funds at the expense of other basic health sectors, such as preventive services, the issue is poisoning the relations between patients, social security bodies, the State and industry. Restrictive measures in 1997 led to only a temporary drop in pharmaceutical spending, which continued to rise, showing an increase of 19.5 percent in 2001 over 2000. A significant proportion of spending on medicines, 38.4 percent, is covered by the insurees themselves, either through contributions, or with them paying the entire cost of the medicine at the pharmacies themselves. Social security funds’ time-consuming procedures, coupled with distance and traffic congestion, create a «time cost» that drives insurees to pay for medicines out of their own pockets. In any case, most people regard drugs as an instant remedy, with everyone aiming for recovery as quickly as possible and with as little effort and personal participation as possible. For this reason, the results are frequently unsatisfactory. According to data from the Institute of Medicinal Research and Technology (IFET) – analyzed for Kathimerini by a doctor of health economics and policy, Kyriakos Souliotis, and a scientific adviser to the Ministry of Health and financial researcher for the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), Vassilis Kontozamanis – the rise in expenditures on medicines is not linked to a percentage increase (5 percent per year) but to the replacement of older, cheaper medicines with new and more expensive ones. «Given the reactions of market producers to restrictions,» said Souliotis, «I feel that the success of any measures depends less on reducing prices or tightening up social security procedures and more on implementing a policy of incentives and counter-incentives.» The public needs to be better informed and doctors need incentives so that reduced costs are the result of following a correct course of treatment and not a matter of balancing the books. Drugs, after all, are not cure-alls – they are not the basis for maintaining health and preventing disease – they are simply a part (and not necessarily the most important part) of treatment.